Gross Heart: Much to Love about Mump and Smoot

Canadian clowns, Mump and Smoot (with Thug), were in Whitehorse tonight in a revival of their first show together, Something.  I was led to believe it was going to be scary, or disturbing--but these were not scary clowns.  While there are some grotesque moments, there’s a charming show beneath the grossness.  It stems from the deep friendship between characters Mump and Smoot, developed more than twenty years ago by John Turner and Micheal Kennard.

On stage, there is a sense that Mump, a bit rule-bound and dictatorial, is trying to be a mentor to Smoot, or a father-figure.  Smoot, on the other hand, is young, innocent, full of whim, silly even, more uncontrollable–like a child.  His voice even sounds a bit like Elmo from Sesame Street, though he can easily scowl at the audience and berate them just as much as Mump.  But the two clowns cry together, miss each other, play together, and are true friends–even if they play doctor and (unintentionally) hurt each other.  It’s not Laurel and Hardy I think of but Abbot and Costello.  Or even George and Gracie.

Our audience was completely charmed by these two–and I laughed through the whole thing—there’s really only a few moments that you can stop laughing.  Sometimes you are laughing at what the clowns are doing to other members of the audience.  The Audience serves as the fourth member of the show, and completely unpredictable.  John and Mike, afterwards in the talkback, referred to what the Audience does at their shows, as “gifts.”  They don’t know how the audience will react, but they take whatever the audience does and uses it in the show.  This is why the show is different every night.  Sure there are several “acts” they go through–but the audience determines paths they will take in the act.

Yes, there are some grotesque moments, but comedy and the grotesque have often gone together.  Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein comes to mind as comedy exploring inside Horror.  We all still laugh–in fact fear makes us want to laugh all the more.  Movies that play with death, or that use a dead body as a running gag, or that find humor in zombies (see Sean of the Dead). Saturday Night Live’s spoof on Julia Child severing her own finger while doing a live cooking show–this is what they mean by grotesque, or even horror.  Mump and Smoot really don’t go beyond that barrier towards horror.  There is nothing so realistic that it makes you gag.  Thug, played by Candice, is perhaps the scariest of the three, and she doesn’t say a thing–which is why she’s kinda scary.  She’s completely unpredictable.

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There Are Stories You’ve Never Heard, Brilliantly Told: a review of The River

I went Saturday night to The River, a Nakai production, with Michael Greyeyes directing a play written by David Skelton, Judith Rudakoff and Joseph Tisiga.  To be frank, I wasn’t sure if I was interested in what I thought would be a sermon on homelessness.  I just didn’t want the guilt.  (And yes, I’m ashamed I actually said that—but I’m human and honest, and homelessness seems so much larger than I can comprehend–and I don’t know how to react “properly” or have any effect on the problem.  I suspect avoiding the issue is part of that problem–and yet, it’s the easiest thing to do.)

But local playwright David Skelton co-wrote the play, and I’m a huge fan of David and Nakai.  So I went.

I was blown away.   It wasn’t a sermon.  It wasn’t a guilt trip.  It was eye-opening, and it was riveting, and it was brilliant.  

For more of my review of The River at What’s Up Yukon

In a nutshell, brilliant writing, directing and acting take you into the vulnerable world of the homeless in Whitehorse.  Inspired by first person stories, collected by the writers through interviews over several years, that interviewing technique gives this play a realistic quality you won’t find in stories about homeless people.  You want to catch this play fast.  It’s here for a limited time, limited seating.  You won’t be disappointed.  I predict a long life for this play, and many, many performances across Canada.

(For more stunning photos of The River by photographer Richard Legner, visit this page.)

My Year of Canadian Reading: what stories are you made of?

As I’m approaching an inevitable embrace of Canada (oh, sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you!) I’m aware that I have very little knowledge of Canadian literature.  A poor citizen is one who does not know his country’s stories. It is how we speak to one another–a cultural physiography and language that connects Canadians together.  How can I become a citizen without learning this cultural language?  Sure I could take a class, I suppose, from a Canadian university online, do some papers, etc.  But I thought a more creative way would be for Yukoners to suggest Canadian books that meant something to them–then it would be more personal.

So I went on CBC with Dave White and we came up with a plan for book suggestions–a reading list of sorts–so that I could become more literate about Canada.  We are getting great results, but please call in to Dave and suggest more books.  I’d like to build a canon, of sorts, of Yukon-suggested Canadian literature.  Right now I’m looking mostly for fiction, poetry and drama—but I have decided that a few creative nonfiction pieces are a must, a Pierre Berton, a Farley Mowat, even a Kevin Chong (go, KC!).  I built a blog to read and discuss this literature.  It’s called “A Year of Canadian Reading” and you can follow the link to see what I’m reading, what I’m up to, and what I thought about books you suggested.  Follow along if you like.  Read them with me.  I want to get an idea about Canada from its literature.  I want to understand you through your stories.  I think when we understand a culture through its stories, we are more able to speak to and hear from its citizens, and as citizens we’re more able to understand each other.

I don’t have any intention of stopping reading after the Year is over—but an actual year is a start.  I’ve read some Canadian Literature.  I came in with knowing only three authors: Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje.  But I’m aiming for the depth and breadth of Canadian Literature, even the heart of our warm, warm country.

Let me know if you want to play.  Follow these links if you want to:  SUGGEST A BOOK FOR ME, or find out WHAT I’M GOING TO READ.

Baked Café: Purveyors of Fine Coffees, Good Foods, and Perfect Days

A perfect day, and I’ve had them before, almost always contains a visit to Baked Café.  Some days I just come to sit on the black couches and look out the windows at Whitehorse going by.  Sometimes I bring a book to read.  Sometimes I plan official meetings there.  Other times I arrange to meet my friends.  Often, I run into them there unexpectedly.  Baked Café is a community hub, so naturally it’s a great venue for meeting.  There’s a lot of ambience in the wide room, and a lot of ambient noise so that you can speak frankly without being overheard.  Music on the radio.  People standing around talking.  It’s comfortable, and often crowded, but not in a jam-packed way, but more like having your best friends all over at your place, happy.  It’s probably the largest coffeeshop that Whitehorse has.

At the corner of First and Main, Baked Café serves a large range of specialty coffees and teas, cold drinks, as well as a wide repetoire of scones and pastries.  You cannot pass up a scone that is bigger than your hand.  It is a meal.  Cranberry Coconut, Cranberry Chocolate Chip, Blueberry Almond or Raspberry Walnut–they each come in three kinds: white, wheat and spelt.  Awesome soups–my favorites are any of their hearty chowders and their Tomato Basil with or without chicken.  They also serve sandwiches, beef pies, quiches, wraps, salads, cookies, and in the summer, several flavors of gelato. There is something for everyone.  It is a hot tourist spot in the summer, and just a hop away from the Whitehorse Trolley across the street.  Kids love it.  And it’s close to everything on Main Street–a place to begin your perfect day of shopping and touring around.  It’s a block away from the Museum, down the street from the Westmark, next to the river and the Whitepass Yukon Railway building.

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