The Plays The Thing

Not having been away for quite a long time, Nat and I decided to take a trip to Stratford, Ontario, see a play and check out all of the quaint shops downtown. We booked a bed and breakfast – The Blue Spruce B&B on Erie Street for 3 nights and purchased matinee tickets for a Shakespearan play – Romeo & Juliet. Nat’s never been to a Shakespearan play and I thought Romeo & Juliet would be a fairly easy one to understand.

We left home Friday mid-morning for our 2-1/2 hour journey. Believe it or not, we also came to the conclusion to completely rely on Garmin GPS. Her way or no way!! As we approached Hamilton, traffic was starting to get heavy and what to our surprise the GPS also recognized that fact as it re-routed us around the Burlington Bay Skyway telling us traffic was at a standstill. We were directed up Red Hill Valley Expressway to Highway 403 and beyond. The trip was pleasurable and what to our surprise, we arrived almost an hour earlier than check-in.

The Blue Spruce B&B is a quaint red brick house filled with Victorian furnishing and collectibles. You can stay in The Writer’s Room, The Music Room, Violet Penny – with appropriate decor. We chose The Writer’s Room filled with autographed books by authors from around the world, and a couple of framed pictures with attached hand-written notes.  Nat and I both enjoyed great nights sleeping in the mile-high queen-sized bed. We were also able to lounge on the day-bed whenever our hearts’ desired. It was wonderful.

Michael and Helen were fabulous hosts. At Saturday morning breakfast we were surprised by an exquisite breakfast of garlic toast, arugula leaves, goat’s cheese, gorgeous fried egg and 2 pieces of crispy bacon. Naturally, the whole thing (except eggs and bacon) were wasted on little miss fuss pot (moi) but Nat enjoyed the whole thing. Apparently, Michael is a great cook and will even host a pre-theatre dinner if booked in advance. His imagination is full of fabulous surprises and ideas.

We enjoyed our meal with another group of couples, one of which had done repetoire theatre and we had to tear ourselves away to get on with our day. The whole group, including Michael, amazed us at who they knew, where they lived in Stratford and the places they’ve been to. Naturally, they all sounded like regular Stratford Theatre goers (if not members).

Saturday afternoon Nat and I drove down to the theatre for the 2:00 PM showing. We thankfully found a parking spot down along the Avon River and made our slow ascent up the grounds to the top of the Stratford Theatre. I struggled with my weak legs, but managed to make it in time and upon entering the theatre were glad to be hit with a huge gust of air-conditioning. We picked an extremely hot weekend to go away, and Stratford was feeling the heat, exactly like Ridgeway. The theatre was  much bigger than I remembered almost 32 years ago when two sisters, a family member from Britain and I went to see The Merchant of Venince. Nat and I had first row centre balcony seats which were fabulous as we could see the entire stage.

At long last, the play began. Having seen a Shakespearean play before and studied the Bard in high school, my heart was pounding. I was ready to be lifted to another era, another time and place so long ago the English language wasn’t butchered as it is now. Nat was a good sport and tried as best he could to listen to what was being said. I had previously explained the story line and whispered a few scenarios in his ear, but it was obvious he wasn’t catching anything and lost in a fog. The sword fights were about as exciting as it got, along with the tragic ending, but he endured as best he could. At least now he can say he’s seen a play by Shakespeare.

To be brutally honest, I was a tad disappointed. The Artistic Director and others had somewhat “modernized” parts of the play. Certain words were updated – eg. days of the week, some use of modern day slang, and certain “asides” as the actors departed the stage. The actor playing Mercutio (a close friend of Romeo’s) a character with imagination, wit, biting satire, loves wordplay and a lot of sexual double entendres, emphasized a few sexual motions a little bit over the top for me. I understood the reasoning as the audience consisted of a lot of younger people and the actors did manage to garner quite a few laughs. I suppose I’m just a purist at heart, but it was still great to see a proper well-written play.

We were surprised upon arrival that if you did NOT book reservations at ANY of the restaurants in town, you were out of luck and the local McDonald‘s would be the only place to get something to eat. Finding out we had no idea when we checked in, our host, Michael, was extremely nice in booking us a table for Saturday at 7:00 PM at Rene’s with the promise that they had the best Beef Tenderloin he has ever eaten. He was so right. Nat and I both ordered the Beef Tenderloin with garlic mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables.  We returned to our room with smiles on our faces. Our evening was complete, and Nat was still able to catch his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs play a pre-season game.

Nat had been sick during the night, so Sunday morning, Michael had fixed the two of us (after letting him know) a smaller breakfast of tea and toast. Nat was still a little wonky and I’m just bloody picky. We had another great morning talking to Michael and hearing his stories. Apparently he was a journalist at one time and while running his business he’s writing a biography of one of Janis Joplin’s guitarists. He regailed us with stories of certain celebrities he’s met along the way and how he’s seen Gordon Lightfoot at least 20 times during his life. I was jealous – I’ve only seen him twice. His jokes were brilliant and we soon discovered we were kindred spirits in our love of all things British TV. We had seen the same mysteries, loved the same actors and felt that any American Imitation was just crappy. We all felt the Americans cannot do comedy or mystery like the Brits.

We soon tore ourselves away and decided to go to the Stratford Festival Shoppe which we had missed after the play on Saturday. Upon arrival, the shop was quiet and we both enjoyed browsing through the book section, the souvenir section and even the t-shirts. I was lucky and came upon a great t-shirt I think would befit my neice for her birthday in November. I bought a little Shakespeare figurine for myself and we were off to the grocery store to pick up a few sandwich-making items for lunch back at the B&B. We were in no mood for another restaurant meal.

While browsing downtown Stratford Saturday morning we wandered into the Indigena Art Shop. I couldn’t believe my eyes. All around me were paintings, prints and other small items done by a former co-worker I worked with in Edmonton, Alberta. She eventually left to pursue other things in life, including her artwork and has since become a very accomplished Sioux Artist – Maxine Noel (Ioyan Mani – her native name). I recall great times working with Maxine in a large law firm, including baseball games, skiing, double dating and even trying to teach me to play tennis. I’ve followed Maxine’s career from the last time we ran into each other coincidentally in Stratford a long time back when Nat and I had taken a two-day trip to check the little town out. I spotted her in a bar and grill having a drink while Nat and I were being seated for a meal. She’s accomplished such amazing things since then and her career has skyrocketed. If I had enough money I’d buy one of everything she does. I adore her work and now realize being a legal secretary once-upon-a-time was so lost on her.

Nat knows how I feel about Maxine and knew it was a done deal that I had to buy something of hers. I came upon a limited edition print on canvas that I loved. The price was within our range so the print “Lover’s” and a couple of her Note Cards was being wrapped and paid for. I had a smile on my face all the way home. It now hangs in our hallway where I see it everyday.

With our long weekend now at a close, Nat and I went downstairs for our final breakfast. Michael fixed Nat some tea and me a gorgeous fried egg. We talked some more with just the three of us at the table. Michael was gracious in joining us and more jokes and stories were told. I could talk to this man all day.

With breakfast done, we returned to our luggage now at the front door and said our goodbyes. I complimented Michael on his hosting and he replied we’d have a great time sitting around with a bottle of wine and talking about anything and everything. I couldn’t have agreed more. He’s only 2-1/2 hours away and nothing is stopping us from returning again one day.

We arrived home after hitting some horrendous traffic around Burlington. The police were just cleaning up after a tragic accident at the base of the Burlington Skyway Bridge where a motorcyclist was killed. The body covered with tarp still lay on the road with shards of glass spread everywhere. My heart sank – having only seen dead bodies on T.V. We eventually arrived home and were glad to be there. At least we both felt we had been away from our mundane lives and had a great experience at least for 4 days.

Avon River, Stratford, On
Swans along the Avon – Stratford, On
Swan on Avon River - Stratford, On
Swan on Avon River, Stratford, On
Lovers by Ioyan Mani (Maxine Noel)
“Lovers” by Maxine Noel (Ioyan Mani)

Only The Brits Can Do It Justice

After hearing about the virtues of Netflix, Nat and I decided to give it a try. The monthly subscription fee wasn’t so bad, plus we could unsubscribe at any time. As we both abhor Reality Shows that insult your intelligence we leave those to the younger generation who still have a massive amount of growing up to do. Me, myself and I also abhor graphic violence of any kind and feel such scenes are inserted for ratings and shock value. So you can understand how the viewing choices we have on cable television are restricted to a large degree.

Having said that, I will watch a few shows where some violent scenes are warranted and somewhat necessary. I just avert my eyes, cover them with both hands or run to another room when the scene is going to be lengthy and Nat tells me when it’s safe to return. It’s a long story, but trust me, after watching violence on the television screen, my sleep is always disrupted by dreams of mahem, running excessively and graphic images only Stephen King could appreciate. American TV shows can and are the worst, in my opinion.

Having always been a huge follower and lover of all things British, Scottish, Irish or Welsh, (including being married to a Scotsman), my tolerance for more aggressive shows has increased somewhat only because such scenes are done by the Brits in order to move the story line along and for actual realism – not just for shock value and ratings. My need for laughter and having a very dry sense of humour can also come out while watching some extremely dramatic or serious show. A good writer will always insert some humour in order to offset the violence and ease the stress. The Sopranos, Blue Bloods, Castle, and Chicago Fire are all good examples of American TV shows that Nat and I watch simply for the good story lines, the intelligence and humour. The Sopranos was especially intelligent, dramatic, humorous –  just bloody well written, in my opinion.

Now I find myself, along with hubby, deeply engrossed in the British TV Series MI-5 (or Spooks, as it’s known in Britain). There have been times we’ll tape one of our regular television shows just so we can continue on with MI-5as our curiosity for what happens next is insatiable. We can’t get enough. We’ve become binge watchers as much as possible. The surprises just keep coming – a favourite actor is blown up, shot or even de-commissioned and sent into oblivion at any time and you never really see it coming. I love it. Nothing is predictable and a surprising story lurks around each corner with intertwined twists and turns. I’m only sorry this series will end after 10 Seasons (or “Volumes”). I have no idea what could ever takes its place. Plus we’ve also finished and enjoyed watching – The Fall, Happy Valley, Sherlock, Broadchurch, Scott & Bailey. 

The Americans kind of have their own version in Covert Affairs, but it’s sugar coated. While there have been good story lines, it doesn’t begin to show the underbelly of an agency such as MI-5, but I continue to watch this show while working out on the treadmill. It gives me enough of a diversion from being bored at such a mundane task at hand. Plus, I confess, to now being engrossed in what’s going to happen between “Augie” and “Annie”.

Only the Brits can write good comedy. Only in Britain will you find an engrossing dramatic series despite the short seasons (with the exception of Coronation Street – who’d have thought that would go on for over 50 years back in the day!).  Even if the Americans copy (and God knows, they have) a good British series, somehow it gets ruined or looses its quality, for example:- House of Cards. Albeit, I congratulate the Americans on this one, as their version was extremely good and obviously well written (all of its Emmy’s). However, I loved the British version just a tad more. Sir Ian Richardson was (and always will be) brilliant. That man has a look in his eyes no other actor can imitate. His subtelties in mannerism and cultivated voice are eerily chilling, even when he’s being nice!! Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved Kevin Spacey, and always will. I’ve loved everything he’s done and he, too, was brilliant in the American House of Cardsbut it’s a whole different world of politics in the States, along with a completely different way of life. The names of past British shows the Americans have tried to imitate escapes me – they obviously didn’t make an impact.

I’m going to miss MI-5 when it’s done, including every actor that played a role somewhere or at some time in the series. It was a shame some real cuties had to get blown up. I’m surmising they were tired of the series themselves and wanted to get on with something else in their lives.