Hits and Misses: Spiel Players Production of The Raven and Lady with a Lap Dog

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Published in Trent University’s Arthur Newspaper, Monday, March 17th, print and online.

Set of The Raven and Lady with a Lap Dog

Photo by Becca Jane

Robert Winslow’s performance of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven (1845) had an intensity that extended itself a little too far. During the performance, in which he recited the poem word for word, each stanza he delivered edged closer and closer to madness. I appreciated this insofar as it kept me on the edge of my seat, but by the end, Winslow’s death metal growl of “Nevermore!” turned me, and likely many others, quite off. The music of Justin Hiscox (piano) and Saskia Tomkins (violin) proved to be a valuable addition as an introduction and coda to the performance. As an opening piece, The Raven was a welcomed counter-point to the light-hearted love story to follow.

Winslow played the part of the onstage narrator in Lisa Hamalainen’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Lady with a Lap Dog, a short story published in 1899. The 40-year-old Gurov was played by the wonderful Beau Dixon, Kate Story brilliantly performed 22-year-old Anna, otherwise known as the lady with the dog, and Hamalainen played Gurov’s wife.

See-through white fabrics dangled from ceiling to floor on a bare set comprised of a few tables and chairs depending on the scene. The story then took place across three locations: Yalta, Moscow, and St. Petersburg.

Gurov had gone to Yalta for some time away from wife and children, and similarly, Anna had fled to Yalta for a break from her “lackey” husband. The two meet and begin an affair that abruptly ends as Anna must return to St. Petersburg.

Gurov believed this affair would be like any other – he would quickly forget Anna and life in Moscow would return to its mundane regularity. Fortunately for readers and spectators, Anna is not so easily forgotten. Our man rushes to St. Petersburg, they reunite briefly, and she suggests coming to see him in Moscow. The story ends with their secret rendezvous in Moscow, a sense of hope, and much enthusiasm for the couple’s future.

Dixon’s monologues were delivered with such a warm and affectionate air; Story’s Anna was wonderfully executed; Winslow’s voyeuristic narrator was humorous and perfectly on time with the actions and emotions of the lovers.

But it is this tension between interior monologue and narration that troubled me most. Hamalainen’s adaptation was drawn straight from the original text, but with one major change; the narration of the short story had largely been transplanted into monologues. Given that I know the short story well, I received these monologues poorly (as elements of the narrative, not a slight against Dixon’s performance). What a character is willing to divulge – to himself, to the audience – can be vastly different from what the narrator’s omniscient voice is capable of addressing. I think this is the case with Chekhov’s text.

In Hamalainen’s construction of the text, Gurov’s transformation into an honest and decent man, capable of unconditionally loving Anna, is unquestionable. In Chekhov’s story, such a transformation is viewed as momentary at best. In Hamalainen’s play, Gurov and Anna come together to the sounds of a piano and violin, not unlike the perfect Hollywood love story; in Chekhov, it is at least ambiguous if not probable that Gurov and Anna have merely swapped their current partners for each other and both, in clear indicators of bad faith, justify their illicit affair. Put differently, in the performance I did not doubt the beauty of this couple’s romance; the short story, on the other hand, tells an inconclusive tale.

The question, then, is what was gained from adapting the story to the stage. Both are entertaining, perhaps even the latter more so; but for the commentary on human nature, social norms, and the delusions of happy love, the written text still provides more.

Also see my review of Chekhov’s Three Sisters.

10 facts about infidelity, as divulged by Helen Fisher

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Implications of thinking monogamy is the sexual/romantic norm?

TED Blog

HelenFisher_2006-0015_blog While talking about her research on love at TED2006, Helen Fisher mentioned the issue of infidelity. Here, she dives into the topic of cheating in much more detail. Photo: Robert Leslie

Love isn’t so much an emotion, says Helen Fisher in her TED Talk. No, love is a brain system — one of three that that’s related to mating and reproduction. [ted_talkteaser id=16]It’s those other two systems that explain why human beings are capable of infidelity even as we so highly value love.

We see infidelity on big and small screens all the time and, on occasion, we see evidence of it in real life too. And yet, hearing that infidelity has something to do the way our brains work is a shock. So 3 million views later, Helen Fisher is back to explain more about infidelity — why it occurs, how common it is and how a study…

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Re: A Call for Love, Letter to the Editor, Arthur Newspaper, March 5, 2014

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Letters to the Editor: Issue 20, Arthur Newspaper

http://trentarthur.ca/letters-to-the-editor-issue-20/

March 5, 2014

Re: A Call for Love

With varying rates of success, Arthur has been publishing the occasional satire piece this semester. Ana Maria Zapata’s “A Call for Love” (Arthur Issue 19) is by far the most compelling. Satire is not merely humour for humour’s sake, but should contain a biting critique of a particular issue, person, etc. Zapata (a pseudonym perhaps?) has accomplished this and has spelled out “why we need feminism” more clearly than campaigns that give individuals the opportunity to answer that question for themselves.

Ana Maria shows us just how easy it is to be taken in by the lure of heteronormativity and anti-feminist thinking. (How could one be anti-feminist anyway? It would amount to denying the fight for equality amongst genders.)

Indeed, the lure of offspring, that historical placeholder of the female, is even more tempting. The author’s piece reels us in – really, she sharply writes—about how the joys of giving birth, parenting, raising a child into a person, struggling and sacrificing everything so your child can become greater than yourself, must be extremely rewarding.

But once we are captured by this position, if not the truth of parenting, Ana Maria throws the satire in our face. The joys of child-bearing and rearing are so evident, she continues, that all contemporary social, political and psychological problems seem to rest on the contemporary woman’s (N.B.: Ana Maria’s gender binary) refusal to bear and raise her own.

However, this was just a tangential remark. The major problem for Ana Maria in her satirical article is the recent self-love week at Trent. Self-love can appear as selfishness, Ana Maria argues through exaggeration. We see the appeal of such a viewpoint, then realize the rhetoric in her satirical voices. There is undoubtedly, she notes, few things better than giving yourself to another person and feeling, in return, a person giving their entire self to you (except perhaps bearing and raising offspring).

Yet, as Ana Maria strongly claims in her satirical mode, such an unyielding and uncompromising view of love, if uncritically absorbed by an individual, can quickly beget the subordination of women. History may repeat itself, Ana Maria tells us with her satire, even in the most seemingly natural, beautiful, and unproblematic way: heterosexual love.

Truly, if heterosexual love in the manner Ana Maria describes, as well as bearing and raising children, are the societal and cultural norms, it intensifies our valuing of self-love week, especially for and from individuals who struggle to legitimize their identities, potentials and happiness with and against norms of heterosexuality, monogamy, and child-bearing (among many other heteronormative positions Ana Maria would surely argue).

I appreciate, then, Ana Maria’s efforts in validating Trent students’ efforts in self-love week and for reinforcing our views as to why, even in 2014 when some believe gender equality has been achieved, feminism is a political and pragmatic position that must maintain its fortitude, guts, grit and backbone.

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Ana Maria’s satirical writing also inadvertently stands behind Kelly Davey, in her own opinion piece, “So that’s what a feminist looks like…” (Arthur, Feb. 10, 2014). Both authors seem to agree that feminism takes many forms, has many definitions, can be just about anyone, and can be written about in a number of different styles and modes.

Kelly ends her article by suggesting we give her piece to those who insult individuals by calling them feminists. I would add, provide them Ana Maria’s satirical letter as well – both authors hit the nail on the head.

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