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Some 2016 Favorites…And Then Some

Best of 2016, Random Musings

Oh boy, do I love a good year-end list, especially when I craft it myself.

Music!

In terms of music, 2016 semi-underperformed. Sure, as a hard-core Britney Spears fan I was thrilled with the release of the pop masterpiece Glory. Not only did Britney sound human on the record, but she also managed to add a few insta-classics to her oeuvre of sonic gems, including the stand-out Change Your Mind.

The lack of earworms in 2016 was not lost on me. In fact, I preferred the lack of incessant, meaningless choruses and bridges resounding in my mind at the most inopportune times. So, in that sense, I thank the music gods of 2016.

TV

As with music, television just didn’t do it for me in 2016, with a few obvious exceptions, like the awesome Gilmore Girls revival. Wowsah, did that show not disappoint. Told in 4 seasons in four separate episodes, the narrative was as strong as ever with original show-runners behind the solid dialogue and tender moments shared amongst the stellar cast. Rumours run rampant of more episodes in the pipeline, but I’ll wait until there’s an official announcement. I’ve been disappointed one too many times.

I liked This is Us, but not enough to watch an entire season of it. Good acting, quick dialogue, but 22 episodes a season really does bring down a story’s momentum, regardless of how many talented actors are within it’s cast.

The People Vs OJ Simpson showcased Sarah Paulson at her finest. Every minute she was onscreen as Marcia Clark was sheer brilliance. Her aura, slight mannerisms, and sharpness made Paulson the TV actor of the year for me.

I also enjoyed the latest American Horror Story: Raonoke. Short and sweet and smartly told in 10 episodes, the show returned to its roots as a horror series wherein all expectations are defied and all stereotypes are subverted. And to entice you even more, Sarah Paulson plays THREE characters. How can you top that?

Film

Ok, so no one is more surprised than myself when I say that La La Land is really and truly one of the best films I’ve EVER seen. Coming from an academic in film, this is a major compliment. In fact, the last time I remember saying something like this was with David Lynch’s ethereal Mulholland Drive.

Its impossible to define what makes La La Land such a landmark cinematic masterpiece. It has all elements one would expect from a Hollywood film: lavish sets, saturated costuming, and a cast of thousands. But what I didn’t expect was to be told such a real and earnest tale of growing up, meeting someone special, and chasing one’s dreams. Not only are Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling incredibly perfect in this film, they inhabit such realistic and likeable characters that the audience instantly feels connected with them. They’re relatable, and their unfolding predicaments told on screen only make them more and more endearing. As I write this, I find it hard to believe that I’m heaping such praise on such a film, but I can’t help myself. I haven’t agreed with so many critics as I do this year with naming La La Land the best film of the year. It’s as close to perfect as a Hollywood film can get. And the soundtrack? Amazing. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one sweeps every single award it’ll undoubtedly be nominated for at this year’s Oscar’s.

Coming in a close second as the best film of 2016 is Chris Kelly’s Other People. Starring the ever-talented Molly Shannon and the tender Jesse Plemons, the film is not easy to watch. In fact, as someone who has had such a similar experience to the characters on screen in terms of the impact of what Cancer can do to a family, I had to take a few breaks from the intensity while viewing. It’s a solid story, full of humour and kindness, and honestly reveals to the viewer that terminal illness can be a catalyst to revitalization and regrowth. With tears comes joy, and Molly Shannon gets my accolade for Film Actress of the Year for this flick.

Check ’em out. 🙂

 

 

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Cozy “Winter”: Reviewing the 1st Gilmore Girls Revival Episode

Best of 2016, Television, TV

It’s no small secret that I have been eagerly awaiting the Gilmore Girls revival since it was announced earlier this year. In fact, to complete my due diligence in respecting this incredible tv show, I’ve watched the ENTIRE SEASON. That’s right – from beginning to end. Not one episode missed, not even during that dreadful Season 7.

With the release of “A Year in the Life” I’ve decided to take my time and not binge on these scarce number of episodes. Instead, I’m watching one episode every couple of days, letting it marinate, and then posting my online review. Let’s see if I can stay true to my goal.

So, let’s get to that first episode, shall we? Spoilers aplenty, obviously.

The decision to start with the Winter season is just perfect. It’s the perfect opportunity to catch up with some of TV’s favorite characters during a time in which good cheer prevails, alongside copious amounts of food eating and sometimes garish decorations adorning the homes of the inhabitants of Stars’ Hollow (see Lorelai’s house).

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A Night With Dolly – September 9, 2016

Best of 2016, Live Events, Music, Random Musings

Seeing Dolly Parton perform live at the Molson Amphitheatre was like a dream coming a true. No, I didn’t grow up dreaming of seeing that blonde country singer with the big boobs who sings sad songs, but Dolly’s music always seemed to be playing somewhere in the background. What made seeing the country legend perform live for nearly two hours ethereal was the collectively warm ethos of the audience. With their hybrid, modern takes on country garb, everyone was just so…happy. It was a nice environment to be part of.

When the pint-sized singer took to the stage, it was like a queen sitting at her throne. There was a definitive feel of reverence for the woman who has endured fame for over 50 years. From her infectious giggle to her sometimes salty anecdotes, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.

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Her setlist perfectly captured her multi-decade songwriting successes. There was some bluegrass, a few early hits, and even some gospel, but it was when the opening notes of Islands in the Stream and the ubiquotous 9 to 5 filled the theatre did it begin to feel like church on a sunday…in a good way.

This woman is a knockout, true talent. Her vocals were beyond crisp, and her penchant for rhinestones and glitter was not hidden in any way. I’m very grateful I got to see her.

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Favorite performance? Hmm, tough one. Obviously I want to say Nine to Five, but if I had to choose, Coat of Many Colors really hit home (as it usually always does). I wish she did sing “Hard Candy Christmas”, but hey, she couldn’t sing everything.

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Strange Questions about “Stranger Things”

Best of 2016, Nostalgia, Television

Now that most of the internet chatter discussing theories and motifs and other such complexities about Netflix’s “Stranger Things” has died down, it’s my time to throw my hat into the ring about the show’s clearly constructed mythology.

While most forays into the alluring cinematic power of “Stranger Things” focus on its obvious homage to the 80’s, there have only been a few true articles on the show’s deliberate narrative vagueness.  This is what I find most interesting and innovative about the series – unlike its counterparts, it doesn’t neatly tie up every plot point into a nice package that the reader is bound to understand. While there are some semblances of closure to the show’s main narratives, there are still boundless, tangential questions that linger. This is what I would like to focus on. I’ve got a few questions, too, and it’s the speculation as to their potential answers that I think  is most fascinating.

The Christmas Lights

For those reading this, I’m trusting you’ve watched the show in its entirety. If you haven’t, then there are major spoilers, obviously. The show’s main focus is on finding Will Byers, the child who goes missing right in Episode 1. Until, and after, his alleged body is found a few episodes in, the boy communicates with his manic mother Joyce (played by a sensationally emotionally crazed Winona Ryder) via the flashing of christmas lights that Joyce has hung all around her home.

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This  ‘communication’ via the blues, reds and whites of the lights is conversational while silent. Even when her son’s alleged body is found, Joyce refuses to believe that her son is dead and so continues to communicate with him with these flashing lights. So, to this I raise my first question. What do the lights mean? Why is it via this strange channel does Will attempt to communicate with his mother from the parallel universe that he is stuck within?

Judging by the meticulous plotting of the entire series, I doubt that the decision of communicating through lights was an arbitrary decision by the shows creators. Yes, the lights and its colors clearly reside within the 80’s era that the show embraces, but I think there’s more to it than that.

The Toy

In some of the show’s particularly moving scenes near the end of the season, we learn how Chief Jim Hopper’s daughter had died of cancer some years ago. Whilst attempting to help Joyce find Will in the ‘Upside Down’ parallel universe in episode 8, Jim finds a toy that his daughter was clutching when she passed away. Not only was this scene extremely emotional, it also upended the tone of episode. Why was this toy in the ‘upside down’? Is this where his daughter now lives? Is his daughter Eleven (El)?

Karen Wheeler

I found Karen Wheeler, Nancy and Mike’s mom, to be a very mysterious character. She’s given more screen time than the other supporting roles, implying that her role carries more weight than it appears to be. She’s shown reaching out, trying to communicate with her children several times throughout the series, her attempts shut down by her children’s lies when they say they’re ‘ok’. We all know they aren’t.

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A Mother’s Knowing Expression

So I ask why is Karen so seemingly prevalent in the show? Is she just a representation of a concerned parent in a small town, or is she somehow more closely entwined with some of the show’s larger narrative constructs, most notably, the mysterious El? For a character who runs a tight household, it seems odd that she didn’t discover a girl living in her basement. Don’t you?

Just a few of my thoughts. Weigh in with your opinions – I’d love to hear them. And if you haven’t seen the show, please do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s pretty awesome.

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There Have Been Stranger Things…

Best of 2016, Television

As I curl up on any flat surface that my home affords me and watch the new Netflix series “Stranger Things”, I am so massively impressed at what I am seeing. I will document my observations and comments at length once I make my way through all 8 episodes, but until then, I leave you with a succinct trailer of the show. It’s everything that an 80’s reared, cartoon watching, ET loving, corduroy wearing, bike-riding kid loves.

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A Bright “Greenleaf”

Best of 2016, Television

If “Six Feet Under” and “Gilmore Girls” had a baby, it would be something like OWN’s new tv series “Greenleaf”. Finally a show with an all black cast, Greenleaf simmers with tension and betrayal, making it a television viewing event. What sets it apart from other shows on television today is that race is NOT  at the forefront of the Greenleaf family, or at least not in the first three episodes that I caught. It’s ripe with familial drama and salacious regrets, and a narrative that keeps the viewer on edge.

The entire cast is strong, particularly the prodigal daughter Gigi (Merle Dandridge), and each scene drips with ferocity and implication of there are many things simmering below the surface, waiting for their first chance to pack another punch to the Greenleaf family and their religion-based organization.

I can’t wait to watch more.

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A Conjecture on “The Conjuring 2”

Best of 2016, Film, Rave!

As a film scholar and enthusiast, I am often asked why do I like horror films so much. What is it about the genre where bloodshed, psychological warfare, and disturbing images intrigues me? To this question, I do not have an answer. Like with traditional art and sculpture, describing the feelings that accompany a particular piece is impossible. Same goes with film, in my humble opinion. The film going experience is less about the representation of a series of images used to form a narrative but about the visceral, more emotional responses the audience has to it. It is often these feelings that can make a film extremely successful or a major flop.

Before I begin to wane philosophically on the nature of cinema, I am bringing my focus back onto my most recent cinematic experience with the film The Conjuring 2. A sequel to 2013’s The Conjuring, the aptly titled The Conjuring 2 acts more as a partner piece to its predecessor rather than relying upon the conventions that so often mire sequels today. As opposed to a continuance of a particular story, The Conjuring 2 extends the world of Ed and Lorraine Warren, “Paranormal Investigators”,  into another time and place. This installment finds the two charismatic and spiritually complicated characters in 1977 London, England, where muted greens and plush carpets adorn every depicted scene. It’s all so 70’s. The Warren’s task this time is to assist a family who is experiencing strange, paranormal phenomenon in their City-subsidized house. Reports of levitation, unexplained sounds and the demonic possession of Janet, one of the four Hodgson children being plagued by these nightmarish incidents.

Instead of resorting to a plot play-by-play, I instead want to center more on the tangential elements of the film. The narrative is interesting in many ways. It develops enough back story of the Warren’s to support their intentions throughout the film without becoming iterative of the first film. There are also many unique questions asked throughout the movie, whether intentional or not by the director I do not know. These questions prompt the viewer to take each and every depicted character’s motivations with a literal grain of salt, giving the film an air of  incredulity. This incredulity compliments the skepticism that accompanies the Hodgson’s families attempts with convincing the authorities of their supernatural situation. The dialogue and cinematography, like the apparent ambiguity of the verity of the films’ events, are subtle and provocative, leaving the viewer with the dilemma of whether to believe what they are seeing, or to laugh off the incidents being presented as though it was one big elaborate hoax.

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The plagued Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe)

I mention the idea of a hoax because The Conjuring 2 is based on actual events reported by the Hodgson Family in 1977 London. What makes it so unique is that some the events depicted in the film are, in a way, re-enactments of the real life events that were recorded audibly and visually. Known as the Enfield Haunting, I ask you to Wikipedia it to see how the film successfully relayed the real Hodgson’s family experience into film as a piece of art.

I propose that aside from the traditional horror/thriller film tropes at play in The Conjuring 2, there’s also a whole lot of subversion going on. Yes, this film has components often associated with ‘popcorn flicks’ or mindless entertainment, but there’s also various concepts lurking below the surface, below what you as the viewer and the Warren’s as characters, cannot see. It’s a feeling that’s invoked. This feeling lies somewhere between skepticism and sympathy.

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Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren

Acted the hell out of, The Conjuring 2 is a solid, welcome addition to the horror genre canon. As Lorraine Warren, Vera Farmiga shines with tenacity and inherent conflict. Her scenes with that terrifying nun are a sight to behold. The younger actors, particularly the revelatory Madison Wolfe who portrays the possessed (?) Janet Hodgson, is stellar. Instead of pulling a Linda Blair-esque performance, her role is subtle and quite sad. But this film is less about the acting and more about the feelings.  Is The Conjuring 2 scary? Yes. Is it a classic horror film? Maybe. Is it an exercise in the power of cinema? Most definitely.

 

 

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A Pinata Party with the Spirited Meaghan Kennedy of Your Pinata

Best of 2016, Random Musings, Rave!

I just love it when someone who is kind, generous, and good finds success in not only what they do, but who they are. Art and life can sometimes be incongruous, but when the fusion of creating something coalesces with true talent, anything can be possible. Just ask the raven-haired beauty with the crazy nails behind Your Pinata, the tremendously unique entity that can make a likeness of anything into a pinata. And I mean anything.

So, without further adue, here is my exclusive interview with Meaghan Kennedy, pinata savant and radiant beauty. And no, she didn’t pay me to say that. It’s just the truth.

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Meaghan Kennedy, the Genius Behind All That Pinata-ness.

Reading Other People (ROP): I’ve known you a long time, and I know you’ve always been creative. Why pinatas? Why now?

Meaghan Kennedy (MK): We have known each other for ages! So rad! Pinatas started as a joke. I wanted to enter in a talent show and so I made a pinata of a pink poodle… it became an obsession quickly! So fun to smash all my hard work!

ROP: Your free spirit is something that makes you so memorable. How have you harnessed that openness to your art?

MK: That’s lovely, thank you:)

ROP: You’ve met some pretty famous people and gotten some pretty major exposure to Your Pinata. Who would you just love creating a Pinata for?

MK: The list is huge. So many people are inspiring to me. I made one for Trudeau during his election campaign, and I had always wanted to make one for John Waters and that happened last year.. I would love to make one for Mariah Carey, Britney, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are way rad. Anyone from daytime television. SO many crazy characters to smash (who wouldn’t want to hit Victor Newman?)!

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The Artist at Work.

ROP: How would you describe your design aesthetic? Do you do a lot of pre-planning or do you like for the creation phase to be as organic as possible?

MK: I always try to connect with each client and give them a pinata that will really leave an impression. I think the big heads/small bodies are hilarious, they look like the person but not too much that you would get creeped out. I don’t do well with drawing so I tend to reference images and just get creative!

ROP: You’ve modelled, you’ve acted, you’ve DJ’ed..and now with your piñata, you are becoming an artistic tsunami. Do you have a favorite?

MK: Hehe, pinatas for sure! It’s the first time I feel like I am really great at something. Like I am making something special happen.

ROP: How do you decide who you’re going to design a Pinata for?

MK: Almost all my work is commission based, so the client decides what/who I am making. That being said, I make a lot of pinatas on my downtime, and I pick people who inspire me. I had the opportunity to see my idol John Waters last year, so I made him a pinata and showed up with it. He loved it and brought it up on stage with him to thank me. Pinch me!

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Cry Baby Pinata from the John Waters Film

ROP: When you finally make that piñata for Britney Spears, can I come with you to Las Vegas to deliver it to her?

MK: YES!!! I still remember the big poster on your bedroom door at your mum’s place:)

ROP: Is there a time of day that you feel the most creative? What inspires you? Music? People? Feelings?

MK: Having worked retail for 15 years I have a big love for pop music and top 40 for when I need to keep energy up. I love me some Supertramp, Neil Young, Charles Bradley, Smashing Pumpkins.. I could listen to Britney/Mariah all day and be a happy girl! Wide range!

ROP: Have you ever declined a piñata order?

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Heathers!

MK: Yes. Many times. I am not interested in making people you hate. Go smash a bottle against a wall. I declined several Stephen Harper pinatas, Trump, Rob Ford (I made one and it made me feel horrible looking at his ugly face for 3 days while making him.) I would so much rather make your mum or your boss! Life should be fun! Don’t waste your time on bullshit!

ROP: Amen to that, sister. Amen to that.

Read more about Your Pinata at http://www.yourpinata.com, including instructions on how to get your own custom pinata.

Smash on.

 

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An Interview with Premier Photographer to the British Stars: Roger Sargent

Best of 2016, Concert, Film, Music, Random Musings

After building up suspense over the past few days, it has come time for us to reveal our extremely fortunate opportunity to post our exclusive interview with the man behind all of the photographs highlighted in the clues.

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Oasis

Roger Sargent, savant photographer of some of British music’s biggest names EVER, graciously accepted an interview request from Reading Other People. This is the man who photographed everyone from Suede to Blur, from Paul Weller to Richard Ashcroft. And, oh,  did I mention he’s the genius behind the infamous Libertines record we posted a few days back?

Now, for your reading pleasure, check out our intimate interview with the awesome-beyond-words Roger Sargent.

Reading Other People (ROP): First of all, I thank you a million times for allowing me to interview you. It’s an honour. Your portfolio is literally a whos-who of not only my all-time favorite artists, but a testament to timeless photography. How do you go about selecting your subjects?

Roger  Sargent (RS): I literally go with what I’m currently buzzing off. I think throughout my life I’ve always retained that excitement for the new, it keeps me young (ish) and inspired. New bands are less jaded and still love being around each other. So largely I’m continuing to discover new bands the same way I always did – radio, word of mouth, YouTube. There are fewer and fewer magazines left now so I tend to contact the bands and labels direct.

ROP:  How did you come upon a career in photography? You clearly have an innate talent to capture both the solitude and intimacy of your subjects.

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Liam Gallagher and Tom Meighan

RS: When I was fifteen I kinda new what I wanted to do – shoot for NME. I was lucky enough to achieve that about five years later having studied photography at university. I think one (of many) things that my course leader Daniel Meadows taught us was “if it’s not good enough, you’re not close enough”

ROP: Cat Power…The Libertines…true renegades of rock music. Is there something about their ferocity that attracts you?

RS: I like to feel (at first) a little intimidated by bands, great artists always have that spark and potential for chaos. The feeling that literally anything can happen.

ROP: How do you choose to style the shoot? Do you let the artist be organic, or is there more staging going on?

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The Libertines

RS: That really depends on who. Some artists have an innate sense of self others need a little help. I like when bands look like a unit, that something gels them together. That can even be an abstract uniformity. It’s easy enough to tweak things but way more satisfying when it’s all “there”.

ROP:  Is there a medium that is your true favorite? Photography? Video? An amalgam of both?

RS: At the moment video, but it’s still pretty new to me. The two have so many similarities. I’m a little down on the photography medium because there are increasingly fewer outlets for it to exist. But everything changes and it’s not like it will die. But it needs to be valued more.

ROP: You shot the Boo Radley’s! Were you able to get “Wake Up, Boo” out of your head at all whilst shooting?

RS: Ha! No! But happily so. I was there during the recording of the album. It’s still a great favourite of mine. Happy times. Though Martin (Carr) told me recently he still can’t listen to any of those records, which is a shame.

ROP: What’s your take on modern music today? Who have you been listening to?

RS: There’s loads of great stuff happening at the moment. I tend to listen to what I’m involved With. So, Sunflower Bean, a lot. Fat white Family, Sleaford Mods.

 ROP:Who is your dream subject to photograph, either alive or dead?

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Richard Ashcroft

RS: The Doors would have been fun. But honestly, it’s the next truly exciting talent I’m more interested in.

ROP: Your portfolio is like a scrapbook of my favorite artists. Where’s the Belle and Sebastian pic?

RS: I did shoot them live once….but back in the day they were incredibly camera shy and hated the NME. Two things that didn’t help!

ROP: If you had to choose three words to describe your style, what would they be?

RS: Honest, intimate, reflective.

ROP: What advice do you have for aspiring writers and photographers around the globe?

RS: Be unique!

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Roger Sargent

 

Visit Roger’s website  st https://rogersargent.carbonmade.com/ for more info about him, and to check out more of his portfolio.

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Enchanting “Grey Gardens” in Toronto

Best of 2016, Live Events, Rave!, Toronto Events

I had no idea what to expect when checking out the Acting Up Stage production of the stage musical version of the classic documentary “Grey Gardens”. Was it going to be a farce? Would it be a veritable humorous look at Edith Bouvier Beale, and her daughter, Edie, the two stars of 1976’s “Grey Gardens”? I just didn’t know. I did know there was a Broadway production of this musical retelling starring the incomparable Christine Ebersole, and I happened to catch her performance of the showstopper “The Revolutonary Costume for Today”, but that was the extent of my familiarity with the musical.

The documentary film, on the other hand, is vital part of my film canon of favorites. Revisiting the film every few years brings me a different perspective on the documentation of these two women with big dreams, big souls, and, most sadly of all, empty pockets. I just don’t think the world was ready for them. I think you’ll feel the same way too if you haven’t seen the film already.

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Back to last night’s spectacle on modern society and the plight of maniacal hope. The musical was breathtaking and refreshing. It not only didn’t poke fun at the situations that had befallen this mother/daughter duo, but it shed some light on a relationship that was at once both stifling yet interdependent beyond words. The two women were shadows of one another, not whole without the other. Little Edie, played ferociously by the amazing actress Lisa Horner of stage fame and success. It was a tour-de-force performance, and I was clearly not the only audience member riveted by every mannerism, every movement that Horner made on the stage. With eloquent stage production that was subtle but effective, “Grey Gardens” as a musical is a commentary on modern society’s insatiable need to build someone up and watch them fall.

You can read more about the show online at your own leisure because I can’t and don’t want to summarize this beautiful production for you. It’s intimate and claustrophobic, but also emotionally and mentally open. I really, really, really liked it. All my Torontonian readers, please, please go see it. It’s only here for a short time at the Berkeley Street Theatre (https://goo.gl/LkpnAM).