Thursday, January 06, 2011

Being an actor does not merit the ability to direct

clip_image002After watching "Young Triffie" for the first time on CBC's latenight yesterday I can safely say that I did not miss a hellova lot when the film debuted in Halifax back in 2005.From her crusading stint on CBC's This Hour Has 22 Minutes as Marg, Princess Warrior, to the way she put a certain highly-placed Nova Scotia MP in his place for mistaking Halifax for Hogtown, it seems there's nothing that Mary Walsh can't do -- and do brilliantly. Then again, having endured Young Triffie, the movie that marks Walsh's feature-film directorial debut, maybe we should make that "almost nothing she can't do." Turns out, when it comes to directing movies, Martin Scorsese and John Ford need not lose much sleep over competition from Walsh. As a movie, Young Triffie no doubt made a damn fine play, which is precisely how it started out.
Written by Ray Guy under the title "Young Triffie's Been Made Away With," it seems to have enjoyed quite a success among discerning theatre goers on The Rock during its stage incarnation. As a film though it could have read "Young Triffie has been made away with by Mary Walsh." and nobody with a sense of the theatre would have even noticed. Mr. Guy may never sleep the same after seeing one of his great masterpieces being thrown to the dogs.
But then that's where Young Triffie, both play and subsequent movie, is set, specifically in Swyers Harbour -- a small, fictional Newfoundland outport, circa 1947.
It is to Swyers Harbour that an inept Newfoundland Ranger (Corner Gas' Fred Ewanuick) is sent packing to investigate what appears to be the ritual sacrifice of a sheep.
This being 1947 Newfoundland, and the Ranger being particularly inept, he arrives in town blissfully unaware that circumstances have outstripped him. He will now be investigating the murder of young Triffie herself, she being the unfortunate and simple young daughter of a local crackpot evangelist (wonderfully played by Andy Jones).
Adapted from the stage play by Christian Murray, Young Tiffie boasts a plot that embraces not only murder but pedophilia, incest, drug addiction, religious zealotry and a host of other societal ills. All serve as comic fodder for a cast that also includes Remy Girard (as the local doctor) and Andrea Martin (forever miscast; as his meddling wife), Colin Mochrie (as Ewaniuck's commanding officer), Cathy Jones (as a local busy-body) and Walsh herself, cast as post mistress and purveyor of red herring, which in this case is a darn sight more prevalent than cod.
In short, it's the kind of comedy that a more experienced director might mind from a cast of dramatic actors, as opposed to a clutch of comedians.
With the comics in control there is no bit of comic business too picayune, no characterization too over-the-top, to allow it to go to waste, even at the expense of paltry considerations such as dramatic arc and storyline.
So instead of a cracking good yarn with comedic overtones, viewers are subjected to Ewaniuk's best impersonation of Mr. Bean does Buena Vista (the portugese name for Bonavista Bay aka "Oh Happy Site") , while Martin does her best to keep up with the tightly wound Joneses. Of all the roles I have seen Andy Jones perform in this is by far I think his gem. He did not just play the part he was the part. Then again that being said Ronald Reagan played the lead in "King Rat" and we all know that cutting a man's leg off well it does give one a wonderful prop. In the end, almost everybody -- except perhaps Newfoundland itself -- comes off looking totally daft.
And to think that it previewed with the words…"See some of Newfoundlands finest actors strut their stuff." Scarey! Bloody Scarey!
God forbid that Mr. Guy would allow anyone from this friendly circus to touch "That Far Greater Bay."

"Paws off! Paws off! The lot a ye"

As a film director, Walsh still needs to learn what she apparently already knows as an actor: Concentrate on telling the story, and trust your audience to find the humour. Talk about Filme Horribilis.

"She's not the same since the Doctor put her on the new pills............nor will she ever be"
R. Brentnall

Monday, January 03, 2011

A Christmas in Brampton

Gloria is Gloria Paul duke of Gambo who now resides in Brampton Ontario. A couple of weeks ago we talked about the possibility of me going for a visit for a couple of days during the Christmas season. This was my first Christmas in many years that I decided not to go to Fort McMurray or Newfoundland Boston New York or Montreal. The fact that I have therapy 3 days a week for a dislocated shoulder made it impossible to travel outside my native Toronto for a long period of time. Taking the Go Bus would be a lot wiser than having to travel the #401 this time of year not to mention the bad driving habits of this multicultural society.

Got there around 2pm on Christmas Eve and after trying to track Gloria down for half an hour we ran into each other via cell phone. Not hard to spot her though as all the Paul sisters are similar in Look. Of them all I probably knew Pamela best as we had been students at the old United School Junior High as well as the well known Smallwood Academy. I've known that family since I was a wee lad growing up in Gambo in the 60's and 70's. Henry and Marie Paul had from who I remember Ella(Granter) Mary (Collins) Rhoda(Lane) Idella(Lane) Nina(?) Gloria(Duke) and 2  brothers John and Henry(Jr.) who was tragically killed by a drunk driver back in 1978. I remember being in Montreal at the time and having been told by brother Norman about the incident. The feeling well you can imagine it was like someone from our own circle having his life shortened by what I would define as a bleeding idiot. I will not mention the culprit but you know who you are and like most writers I don't wish to be sued for slander.

Brampton had so much snow! Wow! Now this is Christmas the way it should be celebrated. Samantha and Jarrett were in the back seat of the car and good as gold for about 5 minutes and then the questions started and here I was thinking they were Gloria's little angels. Actually they are. Good as gold both of them.

We popped into the Beer store that had very few people; unusual for Christmas Eve but then again this was Brampton and not Toronto. Pulling into Wall mart an hour later was another story. One felt like saying "Get out for the love of god..... you've spent enough!"
I remember suggesting to Gloria to just grab me a few gift certificates for the kids. At least with those they could still buy what they wanted and also think that Santa Claus brought them. As long as we had to line up to pay I may as well grab a couple toberone chocolate bars for their stockings too. Gotta love kids! After all they are what Christmas is all about."Alright", I said "Lets head home my dear and off we went.

There are many things that one might see when a door to a garage is opened but this one might give anybody the woolies. Have a guess? Give up? A prop left over from Hallowe'en in the rear of the garage. It was a coffin made from tin that you can place on your lawn along with other things for crazy halloweeners. It's just that it looked so darned real! Wicked...

That night we spent most of the time talking of old times in Gambo and how different it was then as opposed to now.When Gloria put the kids to bed for the night we started on our wine and grub and spent a fine evening shooting the poop about nothing that can be changed anyway. Wonder why it is that the Newfoundlanders favourite pastime is spent conversing of things that happened 25-30 years ago. Probably because the culture that we come from has done it for 500 years and so it's what we do.

When Jarrett went to bed he went to sleep but not our Little Miss Muffett...oh no...If she came down once she cane down 10 times. Why? because she had to make sure that Santa had enough to eat when he arrived down the chimney on Christmas Morning.There it was on her last visit……..a huge 1 foot carrot on the plate. I laughed til I cried. That was it! Gloria's patience was being tried.
"Now my Lady...." well say no more she was gone and Santa would just have to settle for a five course dinner. HA Ha HA!

Went to bed I think it must have been around 2 but for anyone who has slept on a couch and was not comfortable this one was no exception. It probably was comfortable but when you are so used to your own bed the Queens parlour would not have replaced it. I went to bed blinked and got up so it seemed. Woke up to the sound of little children scrunching wrapping paper ribbons and christmas tape to all the gifts that Santa can muster. You can say what you want but there is nothing in this world so beautiful and exciting as watching the little ones open their Christmas gifts. I remember saying to Gloria "Poor little things...they're so deprived. We got a chuckle out of that one. Jarett got a guitar that was similar to the amplifier in days of old and Samantha got new pink skates among the more than 20 other gifts from Mommy and Daddy and all the others in their family.

Christmas always brings me back to a day in 1963 when all I talked about was a plastic Dump truck in Uncle Peter Paul’s window to anyone who would listen. I even wrote a letter to Santa Claus himself because before I was 10 he really did exist. The story or the myth always seemed so real. My Santa Claus that one particular year came in the form of my beautiful Aunt who was also as I later learned much later to be exact my Godmother as my own mother on the day of my christening had been ill. Aunt Joan who is also an Aunt to Gloria came over to visit and under her arm was something in a brown paper bag and with what I knew was something for somebody because she sat to the kitchen table with Mother sipping Tea and eating raisin buns and the bag just sat there unopened. Now if it was something for Mother or Dad it would have been opened by now. What was in that bag? I had to know. It couldn’t have been baked bread because there were too many wrinkles. Not cookies it was too high. Okay that’s it…I’m asking and so now here is the surprise.

“Aunt Joan…..what’s in the bag?”Nothing like being inquisitive when you’re 7 and not even blinking. “Well, I don’t know my baby.That all depends on whether you’ve been a good little boy or whether or not you’ve been a bad little boy.” Well whatever it was I may have been only 7 but smart enough to know that whatever it was it must have been meant for me because Aunt Joan would not have asked that question if she had not gotten that for me. Could it be? I wonder? Is it? Is it possible that Santa and Aunt Joan were one and the same. On that she picked me up on her knee and said
“Don’t touch Roddy, let Aunt Joan unwrap it. ” Out came the little toy truck and the most awestruck child of 7 that if you were in attendance in that small Irish kitchen you never saw or maybe never will see the likes since. There was a god; there was a Santa; and there are miracles. It was a Green truck with a white dumpster as well as a small green shovel to complete the set. You can imagine the smile and joy on a childs face and in his heart at that moment. Yippee! It was by far in my memory the very best of Christmases ever. To this day I cannot even fathom visiting a friend with children and not bringing them something for their big day. A little kindness goes so far.

10 years later on a sunny June morning in 1973 I watched my Mother cry her eyes out glaring through a picture window as the body of my beloved Aunt was driven down the old road of Gambo. By then Santa Claus was dead but as great notions go I became Santa myself to any child within my reach at this most emotional and giving time of year. Aunt Joan is still with me in my heart as is Uncle Watson whenever I feel the need for guidance joy and direction. They are always with me.

Sharing Christmas with friends and family is the very best to those of us who experience it. They are not now what they were when I was a boy but then again nothing is. Thanx to all who made this Christmas a joyous one for me and oh so many others and may the New Year bring you hope understanding prosperity and a love of yourself and all those around you.

“Gloria….Turn off the kettle fore she burns”

Roderick Brentnall is a freelance writer and lives in Toronto.