Saturday, July 31, 2010

David French: A Newfoundland Gem



David French is the best known of a group of playwrights associated with the Tarragon Theatre, one of four "alternative" theaters which revitalized Toronto drama in the early 1970s. While not a technical innovator, French successfully combines convincing Canadian situations with well-made, realistic conventions accessible to a broad audience. The enormous success of his first stage play, Leaving Home, did much to convince a popular audience that Canadian drama could be worthwhile. The working relationship between French and Bill Glassco, artistic director of the Tarragon, has had profound effects on Canadian theater and script development. While playwright/director teams and symbiotic relationships between writers and theater companies are common in countries where theater is well established, such collaborations were quite rare in Canada until French and Glassco demonstrated their worth.
Born in Coley's Point, Newfoundland, to Edgar Garfield and Edith Benson French, the playwright moved to Toronto with his family at the age of seven, experiencing himself the tension between regional and urban values that later became central in two of his plays. In his mid teens, French developed an ambition to write; several of his early short stories appeared in youth magazines, and one was included in an anthology of work by young writers. He began his theatrical career as an actor, training with Al Saxe and Roy Lawler in Toronto and, briefly, at the Pasadena Playhouse in California. French performed in several radio plays produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation from 1960 to 1965. In 1962 he wrote his first television play, and during the following ten years he completed many short plays for radio and television; most have been broadcast by the CBC.

What started as a television play became French's first full-length play for the stage. Set in Toronto in the 1950s, Leaving Home explores father-son conflict in a working-class family, intensifying the conflict by contrasting Jacob Mercer's Newfoundland speech and values with those of his two sons, who have been raised in the city. All the characters "leave home," one son, Billy, to marry a girl pregnant by him, and his brother, Ben, to escape their father's oppressive hand. Jacob also "leaves home" as the conflict with Ben forces him to abandon the spiritual values of the Newfoundland fishing village he left behind physically several years previously. While Jacob is proud of Ben's academic achievements, he cannot refrain from mocking Ben's inability to meet the fishing village's measure of a man; when Ben moves on, he leaves Jacob no one to whom he can pass his values.

Leaving Home's premiere (Tarragon Theatre, 16 May 1972) was the beginning of the working relationship between French and Glassco's company: French found the theatrical support he needed, and the Tarragon achieved a commercial success to bolster its shaky first season. The play immediately struck a responsive chord with the popular audience; in the season following its premiere, Leaving Home was produced by thirty-five theaters across Canada, consolidating the reputations of both French and the Tarragon.

French's next play, Of the Fields, Lately (first produced at the Tarragon Theatre, 29 September 1973 and later by The Avion Players of Gander Newfoundland as their 18th entry into The Newfoundland Drama Festival) , is a sequel. Several years after the events depicted in Leaving Home, Ben Mercer (Roderick Brentnall) returns for the funeral of one of his aunts and again attempts to communicate with his father, a few weeks, as it transpires, before Jacob's (Ross Goldsworthy) own death. Father-son conflict is sharpened by the imminence of death. Also in the stage production were veteran James Lewis playing Wiff Roach.Although only her second appearance on a Canadian stage Ruth Simms Ferguson playing the role of Mary Mercer won a much deserved Best Actress award.Many theater goers of the 70's would also agree that the award was a consolation prize for having played Trese Delaney the previous year in Tom Cahills "As loved our fathers" to an exquisite and captivating degree.Of The Fields, Lately was also a runaway success. It won a Chalmers Award, was adapted as a CBC television special, was produced across Canada and abroad -- including a critically-acclaimed run in Argentina in Spanish translation and a production on Broadway.

French redresses the imbalance of Leaving Home, in which the father is responsible for the failure to communicate. Ben has left home but to no great purpose, and on his return, his values are revealed as superficial. He is ashamed of his father's rough manners and working man's appearance. The old is dying, and French questions the validity of that which is replacing it. When Jacob dies, father and son have managed no more than fleeting human contact.

In Of the Fields, Lately, French departs from the conventions of realism through a framing narrative device. In the cinematic structure of his third play, One Crack Out (Tarragon Theatre, 29 May 1975), French goes still further. The play depicts the Toronto demimonde of pool hustlers, conmen, marks, pimps, and prostitutes. In a series of short vignettes, Charlie Evans engineers several scams in a progressively desperate attempt to evade the dire consequences of a bad gambling debt. Unfortunately, the realism of dialogue and situation are incompatible with the short, choppy scenes, and One Crack Out fared badly with critics and audiences alike.

Despondent over the failure of One Crack Out, French attempted to start new plays, without success. Then, at Glassco's urging, and with the assistance of Russian scholar Donna Orwin, he translated Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, joining a growing number of playwrights adapting plays from the international repertoire for Canadian audiences. His confidence restored by the success of The Seagull, produced by Tarragon in 1977, French fulfilled a long-held ambition to write comedy.

Jitters (Tarragon Theatre, 16 February 1979) is set in a small, Toronto alternative theater and employs a play-within-a-play structure to reveal the world of rehearsals and opening nights. In comic scenes ranging from slapstick to witty infighting, French shows the company struggling against everything from jammed doors to personal and artistic insecurity. The play's central conflict concern's Jessica Logan's attempt to make a comeback in a new play, "The Care and Treatment of Roses," while her leading man tries to sabotage the production for fear it might be transferred to New York, exposing him to a more demanding audience.

His next play, The Riddle of the World (first produced at the Tarragon in 1981), was a disappointment. Described by some as a philosophical postsex comedy, the piece concerns a young man whose lover joins a cult that requires celibacy. Most critics thought that the protagonist's attempts to cope with his dilemma and his attempts to persuade a friend not to convert to homosexuality were overly burdened with quotations from psychologists and philosophers and too far removed from the comic confrontations that the script seemed to call for.
French returned to his Coley's Point source with Salt-Water Moon (My personal favourite and first produced at the Tarragon in October 1984). This, his latest play, concludes the so-called Mercer trilogy by returning to the Newfoundland of 1926. Jacob returns to his hometown after a year in Toronto to confront the ghosts and resentments he left behind and to try to win back Mary, who has become engaged to another man. Both previous Mercer plays included anecdotes about the courtship. In the course of this long one-act play, Jacob does win Mary but never quite comes to terms with his past, thus laying the ground, in retrospect, for Leaving Home and Of the Fields, Lately . Salt-Water Moon makes full use of regional dialect and imagery to achieve its lyrical charm.
French has won several awards and prizes, including the 1973 Chalmers Award for Of the Fields, Lately; the Lieutenant Governor's Award for Of the Fields, Lately in 1974; Canada Council grants in 1974 and 1975; and, for Salt-Water Moon, the Dora Award in 1985, the Hollywood Drama-Logue Critics Award for best play in 1985, and the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award for best drama in 1986. He is currently working on a new translation of Alexander Ostrovsky's The Forest.

While most of French's plays have proven popular with general audiences, critical response has been divided. Supporters admire his craft; Urjo Kareda, for example, describes him as the most significant Canadian playwright of his time. Detractors, such as Michael Cook, find French's work derivative and dependent on sentiment for its effects.
Michael Cook has never received acclaim outside of Newfoundland.

R Brentnall
Toronto

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Microsoft Word Sucks





Microsoft Word Sucks

For reasons which are completely beyond my control, I've spent half a week writing a document in Word 2003.

I have never in my life seen, heard of, or even imagined a more malodorous piece of steaming shit than this little slice of Microsoft. Words fail me, and all that follows is the faintest Platonist shadow-on- a-wall of what is, in my heart, the Ideal Peeve, perfect in its sincerity, bottomless in its depth, and unassailable in its accuracy.

This bloated, pestilent gigabyte-swamping piece of ordure takes up enough computational resources to accurately model the world's weather for the next billion years, and what do you get for it? Something that will format and display text? Don't make me fucking laugh. What you do get is a profusion of bells and whistles thrown in a careless heap, each bauble lovingly designed to make the straight path crooked, the intuitive arcane, the simple impossible.

Take the ``Help'' for example. It's not just help, it's a new friend!

I don't want a new friend, you shit-slurping choad-munching bunch of retards; I've all too many as it is. What I want is something simple where I can find a technical detail with a minimum of fuss and interruption. I don't want animation. I don't want natural-language interpretation. I don't want to be led by the fucking nose. Give me a fucking index and get the hell out of my damn face. If I dismiss a window, I want it gone. I don't want it to wave goodbye, or hesitate, or sneeze. I want it gone.

The document I was working on was very simple. No images, no tables, no nothing. One font, one style, that's it. It would be perfectly simple in other system, even earlier versions of Word, but, oh no, not in this latest magnum opus of the word processing world.

This helpless, hapless, hopeless, buggy piece of offal insisted on changing my fonts every couple of minutes for no reason. Random chunks of text, at random times. And bullet points, don't talk to me about fucking bullet points. It's a little known fact that in the bullet-point mode of Word 2003 every single button on every single toolbar is the ``Fuck Me Over Now'' button. I've got bullet points going left, I've got 'em going right, and down and up, I've got 'em changing indentation, and style, you name it.

You'd think in 20 or so megabytes of RAM there'd be room for one scenario in which it doesn't actively do anything wrong, but for that you'll have to wait for Word 2023, which will have a user interface like a retarded version of ``I have no mouth, and I must scream.''

And don't try telling me that one need only configure the options to avoid these problems; I'm not a fucking moron. I quickly configured the preferences so as to minimize all this bullshit, at which point Word promptly changed them back. Lather, rinse, repeat. If you don't want fast saves, then fuck off, you're gunna have 'em. Don't want your grammar constantly corrected by some shitty little subprogram that doesn't know the first goddamn thing about grammar? Tough shit. Empty your wallet and move off to the side.

How did this come about? It can't be incompetence, at least not the usual mundane sort one is constantly immersed in simply by having to share a planet with a bunch of fucking primates. This is either some transcendent type of incompetence, or active malevolence.

My money's on malevolence. This software was obviously created by a company who's motto is ``We're Microsoft, and you, the customer, aren't worth fuck to us.'' It matters not one iota what their official motto is, watch the hands, not the mouth. Well, Microsoft, your time will come. It may not be Linux that does you in, it may not be the DoJ, it may not be this decade, but you're going to go the way of the dodo, and I for one will cavort naked on your grave, pissing effusively on your memory, and screaming, ``Animate this, you bastards!'' to the sky.

But in the here-and-now, I shall finish this document with the quiet dignity with which I have always comported myself, and then I shall un-install Word, and swear a terrible oath that I would rather daub dung on paper with a stick than write a document using a Microsoft product.

I have been using word processing programs for 11 years, mostly with WordPerfect. Recently at work, they are trying to convert us to Word. Why does this program have to be so complicated and hard to figure out? I've NEVER used a program of ANY type that is so difficult to use!

Half the time I can't find what I'm looking for, and even the Help feature is no help. Why do I have to change the margins under the Print command? Why are Tab and Indent the same key? Why can't I get the page numbering to start on a certain page even though that's what I told it? Why can't I make more than one label at a time with different names on them? Why can't I just print an envelope without having to print a page along with it? Why can't I just Center one line without having to change the Justification on the whole document? Why can't I see the codes such as Line Spacing and Font? Why is it so hard to edit Headers? Why can't I Center and Right Justify on the same line? How do you put in a Hard Page Break?

In my opinion, this program needs a LOT of help before it can be rated up there with WordPerfect, which is so easy to use and find what you're looking for. A person who has been using word processors and other software shouldn't have to struggle with this program.

UPDATE: As of 2011, I still hate this program, and it is still difficult to use!


Well wasn't that interesting!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

For Pop Kelly...The Badger Drive.





There is one class of men in this country,
That never is mentioned in song;
And now, since their trade is advancing,
They'll come out on top before long.
They say that our sailors have danger,
And likewise our warriors bold;
But there's none know the life of a driver,
What he suffers with hardship and cold.

With their pike poles and peavies and bateaus and all,
They're sure to drive out in the spring, that's the time;
With the caulks on their boots as they get on the logs,
And it's hard to get over their time.

Bill Dorothey he is the manager,
And he's a good man at the trade;
And when he's around seeking drivers,
He's like a train going down grade.
But still he is a man that's kindhearted,
On his word you can always depend;
And there's never a man that works with him,
But likes to go with him again.

I tell you today home in London,
The Times it is read by each man;
But little they think of the fellows,
That drove the wood on Mary Ann.
For paper is made out of pulpwood,
And many things more you may know;
And long may our men live to drive it,
Upon Paymeoch and Tomjoe.

The drive it is just below Badger,
And everything is working grand;
With a jolly good crew of picked drivers,
And Ronald Kelly in command.
For Ronald is boss on the river,
And I tell you he's a man that's alive;
He drove the wood off Victoria,
Now he's out on the main river drive.


With their pike poles and peavies and bateaus and all,
They're sure to drive out in the spring, that's the time;
With the caulks on their boots as they get on the logs,
And it's hard to get over their time.

So now to conclude and to finish,
I hope that ye all will agree;
In wishing success to all Badger,
And the A.N.D. Company.
And long may they live for to flourish,
And continue to chop, drive and roll;
And long may the business be managed,
By Mr. Dorothey and Mr. Cole.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Danny Williams is right…The people are wrong!



His going to the U.S. has stirred a great volume of controversy and comment -- almost as much, by informal measurement, as the propogation of Parliament. Both here and in the U.S. Heavens, it's even been brought up in that Shangri-La of Socratic disinterest,FOX News' Bill O'Reilly show,now there's a Judas. Not surprising, many might say. Danny Williams is a lightening rod of his own construction. He's aggressive, combative, partisan -- and back home, largely without any real opposition. My own personal take on him, for what its worth, is that I admire the ferocity of his feelings for Newfoundland while I sometimes deplore the bullying and bluster it occasionally leads to.

But I see it as more than awkward that his surgery, and his choice -- perhaps on the advice of his Newfoundland doctors -- of where to have it, has become the great political football that it has. I've never been a fan of that wretched slogan "the personal is political" for the very obvious reason it demolishes the barrier that should -- must -- exist between our genuine private lives and the wide-open, reckless and supercharged arena of politics.

It's his heart, it's his surgery, and it's his choice. Danny Williams, Premier or no Premier, and his family are the only ones at this point who have any real say about where he chooses to have life-threatening surgery. Further, as most commentary admits, the actual facts upon which he made his choice, and the counsel he has received from his Newfoundland doctors is not known to us -- nor, by the way, should it. So the river of commentary, both here and in the states, is taking place in a vacuum of fact.

A larger reason for refusing to politicize ;the moment however is a simple one: It parallels Trudeau's dictum that the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation. Likewise, politics should stop at the edge of the operating table. It's his life and it's his business.

He hasn't, using his standing as Premier, jumped some queue, lined up an MRI by cutting off someone less connected, hasn't displaced some other Newfoundlander waiting for surgery. Something like that would make a genuine case for debate of condemnation.

So -- the decent civil course would be to wait till the operation's done, wish him the best, wait for his recuperation -and if then, he wants to unfold his personal circumstances, and offer some thoughts on the "politics" of his choice, we can all hear him out.

Here is a man who obtained the portfolio of Premier of Newfoundland,
Took no salary and fights tooth and nail for the cause.The operation as I have read it was paid out of the pocket of the premier himself and not by the Canadian taxpayer.If all policians were to repeat this gesture the media would have no political news.I am beginning to think that you can never please the public.If you are crooked its bad,If you are honest it's bad.It's a no win situation.

Danny Williams is by far The greatest premier Newfoundland has ever had.Joey's dead and Danny's in. Politics, as I've said, should stop when the man in the white coat is reaching for the scalpel.