The Use of Women

May 28, 2012

I just (ashamedly for getting to it so late) finished Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s first memoir, Infidel. Nomad, the second, is still waiting on my shelf.

It is an eloquent and powerful insight into the process of rational examination she went through on her transition away from Islam and the developing world.

And it made me reconsider something that had spoken true to me at an earlier time but no longer seemed to fit my worldview, and showed me why.

I heard a keynote speaker once who had just come back from Afghanistan, in the early years of the ongoing war. She talked about visiting women and children and asking them about “women’s rights”, and said they responded that while they were concerned about violence and clean water, it was foolish to worry about gender equality and the oppression of women.

At the time, it sounded right. But looking at the problems in many developing parts of the world, it started to seem inadequate. And Infidel cleared up my thinking on the subject. There is no way these problems can even begin to be addressed without exploiting the social potential of women. And that’s why the treatment of women is a development issue, as well as a moral one.

Father and Son

May 23, 2012

At first I felt like Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez’ joint memoir, Along the Way, had some broader points to make about the father/son relationship, and what it means to be a man in contemporary society. Strangely enough, as the chapters start to be about “what they learned” as opposed to how they lived together, the book started to feel more specific to them, and less broadly applicable. Still fascinating, but fascinating as a memoir of these two individuals living very particular lives. A definite read if you’re interested in their work.

This was only going to be a review of the Stratford Festival’s amazing production, now on DVD, of Twelfth Night.  I didn’t see it live; chose two other fantastic productions instead. But now, even though they were great, I’m kicking myself for not seeing Des McAnuff’s comedy in person.

The word to describe it is joyful. Not without the touch of melancholy that always gives a Shakespearean production greater depth, especially thanks to Tom Rooney’s Malvolio. But sheer joy in the language, the comedy, the romance, the music!

It might be because I’m such a huge fan, and have been since his Shaw Festival days, but a lot of this joy radiates from Ben Carlson’s cranky but accommodating Feste.  The interplay between Feste, Maria, and Brian Dennehy’s Sir Toby Belch and Stephen Ouimette’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek is fantastic.

Twelfth Night is full of music, the food of love!  And McAnuff added even more, including a song based on Marlowe’s “Passionate Shepherd” and Raleigh’s “Nymph’s Reply”.  Even with all the beautiful music (a showstopping “Come Away, Death”, performed by Carlson alone), the most fun was Carlson, Dennehy and Ouimette turning “Hold Thy Peace” into a 50s rock song. Just thinking about the song and the scene puts a smile on my face.

Which brings me to what this post turned into: thoughts on the beauty of theatre and the important times my family’s had, thanks to Stratford.

We’d been before now and again, but my mother made a point of taking us in 2002, to see Christopher Plummer as King Lear. It was a breathtaking, heart-rending, production, and we made a beautiful day of it, picnicking along the river and spending time as a family. When we got home, we got the message that my mother’s sister had passed away; and for me, admittedly a niece rather than a sister, the grief we saw enacted on the stage that day, in retrospect, reflected our own.

Since then we’ve gone at least yearly, and usually a few times a year. I’ve shared trips with my whole family, my whole family and some friends, just my husband, just my brother, and last year, I got to take a friend to her very first play (she’s a concert goer, not a playgoer, but I think she’s convinced!). There have been a couple years where we’ve dealt with the rain, but usually it’s a gorgeous summer or fall day, offering time to spend with loved ones, and time to ponder the magic the Festival shares with all of us.

My mother-in-law, whom we lost in 2010, was a lover of musical theatre. My husband and I got to take our moms to a few productions, and so whenever I see a fantastic play like Twelfth Night, I wish I could share it with her. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack, and it gives me opportunity to think of her, and have that joyful feeling. In a couple weeks I’m having that first-time theatre-goer friend over, and we’ll watch the play and share in the fun.

I am so thankful for all these moments.