The Penelopiad on stage at Hart House this November

Director and cast member discuss feminism in theatre, Kavanaugh, and the #MeToo movement

<i>The Penelopiad</i> on stage at Hart House this November

From November 9–24, Hart House will host a production of The Penelopiad, based on the novella and theatrical adaption of the same name by Canadian storyteller Margaret Atwood. The story uses a female perspective to deal with themes such as class, feminism, and violence.

The Varsity sat down with Michelle Langille, the show’s director, and Jeanne-Arlette Marie Parson, who plays Anticleia and one of the maids, ahead of their Hart House debuts. They discussed the premise of The Penelopiad, its adaptation, and the relevance of staging an all-female play in today’s political climate.

The Varsity: Could you give us a quick summary of the play?

Michelle Langille: The Penelopiad is essentially a reimagining or re-exploration of Homer’s myth, The Odyssey, so the story of Odysseus. Odysseus had a wife named Penelope, who very, very lightly appears in the story and is sort of seen as this faithful woman who sat around for 20 years while [Odysseus] went off and fought in the Trojan War. He then had all these crazy adventures on the way back to her, and she’s sort of viewed as the most faithful, the most patient woman in that mythological world. So, Margaret Atwood has written a story that basically gives us her side of the events and what happened to her while she was waiting for Odysseus.

TV: Why did you want to be a part of The Penelopiad?

Jeanne-Arlette Parson: I was definitely drawn to [her] imagining of The Odyssey — kind of flipping history and letting our voices be heard, especially in this time and with the theme of sexual violence and rape claims and accusations. I think it’s really important, especially having a full-female cast, to really have our voices be heard and shed light on what’s going on and reflect reality in order to hopefully inspire people to take action and be a part of her story and… what’s going on in today’s society.
ML
: I’m really interested in the idea of how we silence women and how women silence other women. It’s coming more and more to the front and forefront, the idea of intersectional feminism, which is that idea that I, as a white woman, can talk about my experience, but there’s always going to be another woman whose experienced not just what I’ve experienced because she’s of her gender, but because of her race, because of her status, because of all of the things that have factored into who she is, which is really a thing that kind of gets pushed to the side sometimes.

TV: The play deals with a lot of mature issues. What message do you want the audience to take away from it?

ML: Action. We’ve talked a lot about how Atwood’s play was written. It continues to gain in relevance, which is exciting for theatre-makers, but it’s sad for the world. We’ve gained more vocabulary around this kind of stuff, around feminism and around equality and around what the dangers are of not listening and not being heard, and then the way that we treat women’s voices.

If we’d done the play six months ago, we wouldn’t have the Kavanaugh experience, but there were other things that were shifting and so, every time this play gets revisited, I think sadly [that] it’s still relevant to the world. Like Penelope says in the script, “I can see that your world is still as dangerous as mine was, way back then. Through eons we still continue to suppress the voices of women.”

JP: I think it also gives light to the women who are complicit in what is going on. Kavanaugh’s wife and people who have that privilege, who can stay silent because they may have had some experiences but because of their status, they don’t have to deal with it if they don’t want to and I think Penelope is kind of a perfect example of that.

When we’re all gone from this earth, [what matters is] what guilt are you left with, what did you do to make this world a better place, what did you do to help someone who was in need, kind of thing.

TV: Was it important to you to do the play right now during the #MeToo era, with Kavanaugh and everything that’s going on?

ML: The pitch had been accepted before the Kavanaugh thing even started. Back in the spring, I knew I was doing the play and I knew why I was intrigued by it, but that’s actually just continued to deepen based on world events changing. I rewrote my director’s notes like six times because every week it was like, ‘Well, I can’t say that now because now it’s moved onto this; this other horrific thing has happened.’ It’s just crazy, depending on where your optimism levels live. It’s wonderful that the play can continue to be relevant and gain in relevance, but the fact of what it stays relevant to is a little depressing.

JP: It’s definitely very taxing on actors and directors because we know these things are still happening — and kind of getting worse, to be honest — in the world. It’s also a collective — almost bravery to be like, ‘Hey guys, we’re putting our emotional selves into this piece of work to show you the reality in maybe a different way, in a way that you might understand’ and hopefully that can inspire people to continue to do the work that needs to be done to help change it.

TV: Can you tell us about the character who you’re playing?

JP: Anticleia is the mother of Odysseus, wife of Laertes, and the mother-in-law of Penelope. She’s also the granddaughter of Hermes, [who] is the trickster god and messenger god, and she’s very cold, especially towards Penelope in the beginning, but I still think she has a caring undertone because she knows the responsibilities [that Penelope is about to have]…she didn’t really have the closest relationship with her son, although she still obviously had the mother’s love for him, and she knows that this will be most likely the same thing that’s going to happen to Penelope. She has very curt little remarks, which are really fun.

All in all, I think her role in the story is to just give the pillars of Odysseus’s life, to show his upbringing, and why he is the way he is, as well as sympathize with Penelope and her story.

TV: How did Margaret Atwood adapt or change her novella for the stage?

ML: The novella is obviously more in-depth and more structured as a trial, [and] I think we’re still holding onto those aspects [in] the play. It’s obviously shorter, but a lot of what’s in the novella is actually in the play. [Atwood] just sort of took the novella and stripped things away to highlight the most dramatic or the most important elements and things that can be staged.

There’s a lot of costume changes and assuming of different characters, so she offers us a lot in terms of the idea of clown satire. I know she [touched] a little on the satire plays of Greek theatre. In terms of it being different, it’s the same but it’s different. I think Atwood tried to pick and choose what she thought could translate the most, from the image world [created her novella] in your mind to what you can physically put on the stage.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Where’s the old Kanye?

The idea that you need to be unstable to be a successful artist is damaging and dangerous

Where’s the old Kanye?

In late October 2016, my best friend and I dished out over $150 for Kanye West tickets. I was out of the country at the end of August when he first brought the Saint Pablo tour to Toronto, so I was determined to see him in December. Of course, that never happened, because on November 19 in Sacramento, California, Kanye started his concert an hour and a half late, performed for 15 minutes, and then gave a half-hour rant before running off stage. The tour was immediately cancelled and Kanye was hospitalized and placed on psychiatric hold. 

Kanye left the public eye for a while, and from his few appearances, it seemed as though he was getting better, healthier. Then, this spring, Kanye resurfaced, more controversial than ever. He pledged his support for Trump, louder than he had in 2016, sporting that signature garish red hat with the white script. 

Those of us who follow Kanye’s social media — and had heard quiet murmurings that a new project was on its way — hoped that this was just a publicity stunt to reemerge into public consciousness. In the age of streaming, when curiosity-clicks on YouTube and Spotify generate legitimate revenue, any form of attention is promotion. 

And Kanye knows a thing or two about controversial promotions. 

Some of Kanye’s previous albums have been directly preceded by some controversy or petty feud, usually sequestered in the Hollywood-sphere. Before Graduation’s release in 2007, Kanye was in a public rivalry with 50 Cent; he even moved his album’s release date to the same day as 50 Cent’s to heighten the sense of competition. Kanye’s infamous intervention in Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs and the subsequent fallout probably helped in the conception of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, released in 2010. The Life of Pablo was released after three very public re-namings in 2016, and was concurrent with part two of his Taylor Swift drama, in which he and Swift had a falling out over lyrics in his single “Famous.”

Kanye has always used the public’s gaze to his advantage: luring admirers and critics in with whatever drama he has managed to stir up, only to deliver thoughtful, experimental, and groundbreaking music. 

Kanye’s Trump love last spring therefore had me crossing my fingers and hoping that this was just his latest approach to promotion. After all, it doesn’t make sense for Kanye to support someone like Trump.

Because if we do as musicians generally expect us to do — take their lyrics as an extension of their thoughts and beliefs — we get a picture of Kanye who, for all intents and purposes, would not be backing Trump. In the first verse of “New Day,” Kanye raps: “I mean I might even make [my son] be a Republican so everybody knows he love white people.” In “Two Words,” he references police racially profiling Black men. 

In “Murder to Excellence,” Kanye manages the most jarring lyric on the track: “Three hundred and fourteen soldiers died in Iraq, five hundred and nine died in Chicago.” Violence in Kanye’s hometown of Chicago is a recurrent theme both in his lyricism and public activism. In “New Slaves,” he raps about racism and the prison-industrial complex.  

Kanye has always been progressive. In 2009, he criticized the hip hop industry for its attitude toward gay people. In 2005, he shocked millions when, during a relief concert for Hurricane Katrina, he ad-libbed the now famous quip, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” 

Kanye was contrarian, but more importantly, he was logically sound and presented nuanced ideas and thoughts — granted, usually in less-than-ideal circumstances. So, I, like many of his other fans, had hoped that this unabashed political outspokenness was a new approach to promotion. Alas, it proved to be something much more. 

This controversial era is unlike his others — primarily because his statements stand polar opposite to the person Kanye used to be. Nowadays, it seems like Kanye is being contrarian simply for the sake of being contrarian. By his own admission, Kanye admires Trump because Trump is doubted: it is as if Kanye is looking to be ostracized. And it’s left many of us scratching our heads, wondering how and why. We can get into a heated discussion about what fuels Kanye’s Trump endorsement — is it dissonance, ego-fuelled self-promotion, or a genuine personal investment? 

And then, just as quickly and suddenly as it had begun, Kanye’s Trump love ended: a few weeks after his White House meeting with the president, Kanye donated over $120,000 USD to Democratic Chicoagan mayoral candidate Amara Enyia. A couple of weeks after that, he tweeted that he felt he was being used: “My eyes are now wide open and now realize that I’ve been used to spread messages I don’t believe in.” For the time being, it seems that Kanye is distancing himself from politics. 

My intention is not to condemn or defend Kanye’s recent political outbursts: politics is just one small fragment of Kanye’s unique presence in pop culture. Rather, this is meant to spotlight his slow and bizarre descent into martyring himself as a tortured artist. 

Can suffering be inspirational? Motivational? A combination of the two? Our understanding of art history is plagued with figures who are as tortured as they are talented: the starving artist, the poète maudit, the quixotic writer. Drug addiction and substance abuse; sexual repression and frustration; narcissism, self-loathing, and anti-sociality — these are all things we expect to find when we dig into the biographies of auteurs. 

It’s been hammered into our heads that creativity stems from adversity. Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear, Sylvia Plath was clinically depressed, Oscar Wilde was jailed for his homosexuality, Fyodor Dostoyevsky was exiled to a labour camp, and historians believe that Edgar Allan Poe suffered from bipolar disorder.  

 It seems that the message we are pedaling as a society is that to create good art, you must suffer. Take Damien Chazelle’s 2014 film Whiplash, or even this year’s A Star is Born for more contemporary examples. The problem with this belief is that not all dives into addiction and mental illness come with brighter days afterward: all of the aforementioned artists ended with unfortunate deaths. 

Our adherence to the mythos that anguish and misery is conducive to creativity is incredibly dangerous, it is alarming, and clashes with today’s overall attitude toward mental illness. To suggest that a writer writes best when manic, or that an artist paints better when depressed, dismisses the importance of their overall health and stability. 

This is where we return to Kanye’s diagnosis. On October 1, Kanye sat down with TMZ for an interview in which he mentioned that he was off his medication. Link this to his song “Yikes, in which he calls his bipolar disorder a “superpower,” and you get a very disturbing picture of Kanye’s mindset right now. Considering that the psychology community has long debated whether or not bipolar disorder has a direct link to creativity, and maybe Kanye’s mindset is not all his doing. 

For an individual who takes art and the creative process extremely seriously, it should surprise no one that Kanye puts his ability to create above his health. When we prioritize achievements and success over everything else, what other outcome could there be? 

We glorify and romanticize artists who have suffered throughout history, arguing passionately that their success came from strife. In the twenty-first century, the tortured artist is scrutinized by fans, ostracized by the media, and laughed at by society as a whole. 

Is Kanye under the impression that channeling his mental illness will help him create better music? Are all these bizarre public outbursts just a side effect? Can we blame him if they are? We love tales of suffering disguised as underdog stories, ones that conveniently leave out tragic and unfortunate endings. Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of, but it’s not something to indulge either. “I hate being Bi-Polar its awesome,” reads the cover of Ye. 

This is not to say that we should give Kanye a free pass. However, we do need to be patient and allow Kanye to return to form, to the Kanye who approache drug-dealing in impoverished neighbourhoods with nuance in “We Don’t Care” and criticized excess in celebrity life in “So Appalled.”

The fact that Kanye paints his disorder as a superpower should ring alarm bells. The fact that there are real communities that believe that not taking medication results in heightened creativity should worry us. 

Our perception of mental illness is skewed and harmful, and we have to start a dialogue about what kind of messages we — the readers of newspapers, listeners of Spotify, viewers of cable — retain and promote.

There’s a lot of things to unpack here: both the endurance of the tortured artist trope, and the lack of serious conversations surrounding mental illness, particularly for Black men. We need to reassess our attitude toward art and creativity.

You should not have to have a public meltdown, or cut off your ear, to make good art or be considered a gifted artist. 

Hopefully, someone lets Kanye know that. 

Overlooked: Gerald’s Game

This film has the scariest monster of them all

Overlooked: <i>Gerald’s Game</i>

Content warning: references to sexual assault.

I love horror movies. I love everything from the super cheesy ’80s slasher flicks, to the most twisted and intense psychological horrors — provided, of course, that they don’t demonize people with mental illnesses.

But alas, my deep disappointment with horror is the treatment of women and sexual violence. Women’s bodies become ragdolls to be thrown around, either to fuel male emotion or for the sake of pure shock value. Women’s sexuality too often becomes the deciding factor in who gets to survive until the end, with the virginal ‘final girl’ rewarded for chastity while still being heavily sexualized.

Enter Gerald’s Game, the 2017 Netflix horror and thriller based on Stephen King’s 1992 novel of the same name. The setup is easy enough to follow: Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), decide to take a romantic vacation to a lake house in the middle of nowhere, as many ill-fated couples do.

The game in question comes when Gerald decides to put Jessie in a pair of handcuffs for some roleplaying. Jessie agrees, then becomes uncomfortable. The two argue and suddenly, Gerald drops dead.

Handcuffed to the bed and totally alone, Jessie could easily be the chained-up prey of any would-be killer from a film more entrenched in the stereotypes of the genre. Instead, Jessie is forced to confront the truth about her life: her failing marriage to Gerald, her history of being sexually abused as a child, and the silence with which she has endured all of it.

Rather than be an object of disgust, horror, or shock, Jessie’s trauma is simply presented as it is, with Jessie’s fear stemming from the silence she has been forced into all her life.

There are some old-fashioned scares as well, with Jessie hallucinating the ghost of her dead husband and being interrupted by a grave robber and serial killer in search of treasures, but ultimately, the movie is Jessie’s journey.

Gerald’s Game is an intensely realistic examination of memory and trauma. The lead female character is never an accessory to another’s story or shamed for her choices.

This is the kind of story we need right now, the kind that knows how to scare you without any cheap tricks or jump scares. The scary monster is, in the end, what Jessie has to live with: silence, shame, and trauma.

There’s nothing deader than a Halloween haunt with bad music

Pick this playlist for your party to get in the mood for a spooky season

There’s nothing deader than a Halloween haunt with bad music

Whether you’re a goblin or a ghoul, every creature that dwells in the darkness loves to get down and freaky at a good dance party. Halloween is upon us once again — there will be pumpkins, monsters, but also parties popping up to scare you at every street corner in the country.

If you choose to host a party, or if you just want to get into the Halloween groove, here are my top 10 Halloween songs to help you become a frightfully good party host and get all your monster homies into the Halloween spirit!

“Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett, 1962

This song has withstood the test of time. The lyrics of this iconic song allude to monsters such as Wolfman, Frankenstein, and Dracula all enjoying a spooktastic dance party. It is truly a graveyard smash with its catchy beat and addictive lyrics.

“Thriller” by Michael Jackson, 1982

The music video for this song is almost as famous as the song itself. Who can resist hordes of zombies dancing in unison? As a bonus, no mere mortal can resist the legendary Vincent Price doing a stellar voice over.

“It’s Almost Halloween” by Panic! At the Disco, 2008

In the middle of the dark woods, there is a party in a clearing. Are those mummies, vampires, and werewolves partying? Nope! It is the American pop punk band in full costume! Although it’s one of the newer songs on this playlist, Panic!’s “It’s Almost Halloween” might just be the best in the genre when it comes to explaining just what Halloween is really all about. Check out the music video for the full picture.

“I Put A Spell on You” by Jalacy “Screamin’ Jay” Hawkins, 1956

This song has risen in popularity through its many covers and is also featured in the classic 1993 Halloween film Hocus Pocus. The original singer of this song was frightful in his own right, because Screamin’ Jay usually pulled voodoo aspects into his performances. It’s a great one and definitely worth a listen!

“Addams Family Theme Song” by Vic Mizzy, 1964

They’re spooky and they’re kooky! In the 1960s, there was a fondness for the unconventional, yet still relatable, child-friendly world of the monsters. Not only was The Addams Family a result of this trend, but it also produced The Munsters and Bewitched.

“Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr, 1984

Just like many other songs on this playlist, this is a track to a cult classic Halloween film. Ghostbusters has a sequel and a feminist revival too, leading to more alternative renditions by artists like Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliot.

“Calling All the Monsters” by China Anne McClain, 2011

“Calling All the Monsters” makes appearances on numerous Disney television shows. The lyrics are about facing your fears. Compare that with the monster-filled dance party in the music video. What more is there to say? Give it a play.

“Spooky Scary Skeletons” by Andrew Gold, 1996

There’s just something about those darn skeletons which keep bringing the spirit of Halloween year after year! This song became popular after a video of a pumpkin-masked, black leotard-clothed man did his fangtastic dance on YouTube. Give it a watch. I dare you.

“This Is Halloween” by Marilyn Manson, 1993

Marilyn Manson is scary. Now imagine him creating a song about the scariest day of the year. Terrifying, right? This song rose to popularity when it was featured on the soundtrack of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s a classic and you should pop it on your party playlist ASAP.

“Modern Monster Mash” by Key of Awesome, 2014

This one is a little different from the rest. Instead of being a song on a CD, this Halloween hit is actually a YouTube viral sensation. Creative YouTubers Key of Awesome updated “Monster Mash” by changing the lyrics to include newer horror film icons. You’ll find Freddy Krueger from The Nightmare on Elm Street series, Michael Myers from The Halloween series, Jigsaw from Saw, Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, and many more.



Is lit culture dead?

Memes killed books and I’m jaded

Is lit culture dead?

The premise of the novel being ‘dead’ first arose during the rise of nihilism: the denial or lack of belief in meaningful aspects of life.

Though many have claimed that this was an exaggeration, with the rise of social media has come an entire generation that has been removed from literary culture. Our most well-known creative outlet is now YouTube.

YouTube is both a blessing and a curse. Watching a world of Californian YouTubers and their lavish lifestyles easily leads down a rabbit hole of random videos about ‘Twitter beef’ or ‘tea’ that apparently needs spilling.

Along with this new cultural phenomenon comes the unfortunate decline of time being spent on ‘traditional’ hobbies. What I am referring to is the kind of thing that your parents would say if they saw you binging Netflix for hours: “When I was your age we had to spend our time doing something offline. Do something else! Go outside, ride a bike, or read a book!”

Literary fiction once dictated popular culture, but with the rise of the digital age, the hunger for new stories has been satisfied by movie adaptations and audio books.

The sponsoring of YouTubers by companies like Audible has greatly increased in popularity. Audio books are considered to be easier to ‘read’; people can experience ‘reading’ a book while doing other tasks at the same time. This has resulted in fewer purchases of hard copies. In turn, many book stores, particularly independents, have had to shut their doors.

Personally, I find that listening to a book does not give you the same feelings as picking up a new book and experiencing that euphoria of ‘new book’ smell does. It truly is a sad moment every time someone tells me that they have not even heard of some of the greatest books of all time, never mind having read them.

Literary culture has dwindled down to sappy Wattpad stories of a girl reading in a café or a park and meeting the boy whom she will later marry. The days of literary puns and classic English literature are long gone. Every so often, a book series will send popular culture into a frenzy, leaving behind a whirlwind of heartbroken teens and fierce fandoms, but for the most part, literary culture is slowly being lowered into its grave.

Even when speaking to friends of mine, many say that they “love the idea of reading” but can’t stay focused on a book long enough to finish it. Honestly, how can I, or any other book lover, blame them? This generation has been trained to be accustomed to the fast pace of social media and its continually growing collection of memes.

All that remains of literary culture is what hipsters have made from romanticizing the idea of reading in a café and having revolutionary ideas. The sad truth is that, in a world in which the novel is so out of sync with a society molded so heavily by meme culture, the idea of someone reading could actually be seen as incredibly intellectual.

Reading is no longer associated with leisure. Novels have now become intertwined with academia and schoolwork. The automatic instinct for many children, teens, and adults is to grab their electronic devices and play games, listen to music, or use social media rather than immerse themselves in a story beyond themselves and the world around them.

Reading is now looked upon as an acquired interest rather than a common hobby. It seems like reading has returned to being a refined art form, and the glory days of being ecstatic when your parents took you to Chapters or the local book store are no more.

The traditional novel is obsolete beside ever-advancing technology. Literary culture, to most people of this era, is dead or dying.

Revisiting the sparse genre of Halloween music: Nightmare Revisited

Halloween is a better holiday than Christmas #hottake

Revisiting the sparse genre of Halloween music: <i>Nightmare Revisited</i>

I subscribe to the school of thought that the Halloween season should be as widely appreciated as the Christmas season. Every October 1, I immediately bust out all my creepy clown decorations, pour over my horror movie collection, and start saving up for my Halloween costume.

By Thanksgiving, my mantelpiece is littered with jack-o’-lanterns, witch paraphernalia, and a tasteful rhinestone-encrusted skeleton head. It seems that the only thing missing from this otherwise robust holiday season, at least vis-à-vis Christmas, is the music.

Halloween music is a genre that proves frightfully sparse. Aside from a few classics, there’s not much to pick from — and there are only so many times you can play “Monster Mash” before you start doubting whether it would really be a “smash” in any graveyard.

Enter the musical genius of Danny Elfman. Perhaps the greatest Halloween CD of all time, The Nightmare Before Christmas never fails to get me in the Halloween spirit. But with only one 1993 CD in my Halloween music arsenal, I, much like Jack in “Jack’s Lament,” “have grown so tired of the same old thing.”

From this need for even more Nightmare music, the brilliant cover CD Nightmare Revisited emerges. It offers a second album for your Halloween playlist, as well as a much-needed intersection between emo culture and the world of The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The album’s standout is Marilyn Manson’s glorious heavy metal rendition of “This is Halloween.” Other tracks seem less intuitive, yet offer the same vitality; Rodrigo y Gabriela perform an enchanting instrumental cover of the iconic “Oogie Boogie’s Song,” featuring an ensemble of intricate acoustic guitars in which even the throaty percussion is provided by drumming on guitar bodies.

The beauty of this cover is that it doesn’t try to compete with the wildly entertaining original — unlike Tiger Army’s slightly off-putting attempt at remaking Oogie Boogie’s anthem — instead offering something entirely new. In contrast, Amy Lee’s rendition of “Sally’s Song” is indisputably better than Catherine O’Hara’s weak original, and her sultry vocals make this track perhaps the most worthwhile one on the album.

The standout on the 1993 CD is arguably the Christmas classic “What’s This.” Though nothing can beat Danny Elfman’s version, alternative metal band Flyleaf delivers a dream-like rendition, heaviness dripping from each note. The song begins with a panoply of instrumentation, featuring slow guitars and crashing drums blending with languid, fluid vocals. Tying it all together to make pure rock-and-roll psychedelia, Flyleaf’s “What’s This” ends in a surprising minor key, offering the song a haunting tone that makes it perfect for when you’ve been listening to the original on repeat for several hours and need something slightly new — but only slightly.

Alternatively, Fall Out Boy offers another take on “What’s This,” overlaying tinkling piano with electric guitar and drawing listeners in with a breathtaking opening note loaded with melisma and melody.

Other tracks that shouldn’t be missed include Korn’s nu-metal spin on “Kidnap the Sandy Claws,” as well as The All-American Reject’s impressively angsty “Jack’s Lament.” Rise Against lends the already frenetic “Making Christmas” a punk rock sound with fast heavy guitars, distorted instrumentation, and spitting vocals.

The lesser-known “Town Meeting Song” is revamped by The Polyphonic Spree as an epic rock opera reminiscent of Rocky Horror, transforming a three-minute plot-driven song into a goliath nine-minute masterpiece.

So if you’ve been decking the halls with pumpkins and cobwebs, but you can’t seem to find the right Halloween tunes to tie together the spooky ambience, give Nightmare Revisited a try for a twist on your favourite holiday classics.

Theatre review: Hart House’s Heathers: The Musical

Theatre review: Hart House’s <i>Heathers: The Musical</i>

Hart House opened its 20182019 season with a bang, or rather, a series of bangs, followed by an explosion. Adapted from the darkly comic teen film of the same name, Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s Heathers: The Musical premiered in Los Angeles in 2013. Released in 1988, Heathers became a cult classic for its violent characters, disturbing story, and morbidly cynical take on bullying and suicide. One can only assume that the demand for a musical adaptation was unanimous and vehement.

Director Jennifer Walls did perhaps the only reasonable thing to do with such an absurd, violent, and irreverent story: a lot. Heathers throws everything it can at the audience, seldom letting up. I entered the sold-out auditorium to the warm embrace of late-’80s pop hits, and the first thing that greeted me was the extravagant set. A brightly coloured and nightmarishly skewed vision of a high school hallway, it looked something like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari meets Hairspray, like how a row of lockers might look if you were on a seesaw and acid. It was impressive, and immediately set the tone for this energetic and disorienting show. A barrage of bright, colourful, categorically ‘more-is-more’ sights and sounds were to come.

Our protagonist, Veronica, is a 17-year-old nobody at the fictional Westerburg High School, who is later indoctrinated into the school’s most popular group of girls, the Heathers. There are three of them, and they’re called the Heathers because each of them is named Heather. Get it?

Veronica is played by Emma Sangalli, whose enthusiasm makes the coming-of-age scenes a joy to watch. Sangalli especially shines in the smaller moments, like Veronica’s brief asides to the audience, where she takes what might have been forgettable lines or inconsequential bits of exposition and infuses them with a genuine sense of charm and spontaneity. She greets new experiences — donning her Heather outfit, getting drunk at a party for the first time — with a sort of giddy disbelief that makes her character eminently likeable.

Justan Myers has the perfect look for his character, Jason “JD” Dean, and he nails the suave punk ethos. He nails it — perhaps, a little too much though. Especially during the beginning of the show, Myers wears an almost permanent smirk, which stifles and flattens the underlying pain implied by his lines. However, he more than compensates for this in his final song “I Am Damaged,” as he explodes into a fit of seething, spitting rage that genuinely terrifies. It’s exciting to see an actor become so truly monstrous onstage and, aided by creepy chiaroscuro-like lighting, which provides a strong contrast between light and dark, Myers’ face in these moments may be the most memorable image from the show.

PHOTO BY SCOTT GORMAN, HART HOUSE THEATRE

Oddly, Heathers succeeds most in its darkest moments. Becka Jay makes a remarkable impression in her relatively small role as Heather McNamara — the third most senior Heather, for those keeping score at home. After a series of comical and absurd murders that are framed as suicides, this Heather is the first character to actually attempt taking her own life. Jay makes the character seem truly unstable. Heathers is extreme and impassioned, but watching these scenes, I realized that I’d been somewhat starved for moments of genuine intensity. Jay’s raw, visceral agony — and JD’s similarly fever-pitched meltdown — seem to be the only answer to the bubblegum-craziness of the rest of the story.

I haven’t yet mentioned the music, because it is not very memorable, but the choreography is beautiful. It’s dynamic without being excessively complex, and most numbers end with a tableau silhouetted against a single-colour wash of backlight, which is, honestly, just cool. The band, led by Jonathan Corkal, is also excellent, particularly in more rock and funk-driven songs like “You’re Welcome.”

Despite the enjoyable instrumentation, however, “You’re Welcome” struggles to strike a balance between the comedic tone of the show and the attempted rape in the accompanied scene. It replaces a song from an earlier version of the musical, “Blue” — as in balls — which drew some criticism for making light of sexual assault. Here, the real peril of Veronica’s situation is clear, but it’s a difficult emotional balancing act for the viewer to also laugh at the jokes.

I must also mention the song “My Dead Gay Son.” There is a twist in this song, which I won’t reveal, except to say that it truly exemplifies the balls-out absurdity that the show constantly strives for. Throughout Heathers, there is an attempt to mix senselessly tragic situations with excessively cheerful pageantry to create an irreverent sense of absurd humour. The musical pulls it off with mixed success, with “You’re Welcome” in particular struggling against this tension. But “My Dead Gay Son” is such a fantastically silly culmination of so many ridiculous plotlines that I wish that the characters it focuses on had a show of their own.

When Heathers was over, I wasn’t quite sure how to feel. The play ends in a chaotic rush of so many events, increasingly outrageous, resolved and unresolved and resolved again, that you’re given no time to think anything except, “Why did they dedicate an entire song to Slurpees?” Suddenly, curtain call. I clapped for the lovely actors, staggered out of the auditorium, and tried to figure out why O’Keefe and Murphy wanted me to see what I just saw.

Something to do with inclusion? Something to do with the power of friendship?

For the discerning viewer, I’m sure there are scores of powerful messages to be drawn from this story, which touches on so many urgent and timely themes. I’d try to find just one to highlight for you, but if I think about the show much more, I’ll get brain freeze.

Heathers: The Musical ran from September 21 to October 6.

The Bold Type is the best political show on television right now

The nuanced portrayal of female friendship, office dynamics, and complex political topics is commendable

<i>The Bold Type</i> is the best political show on television right now

It’s difficult to describe The Bold Type without inevitably describing the many tropes that have been prominent since the success of Sex and the City. Yes, a dramedy about best friends living in the city and navigating their personal and professional lives together is not an especially new or distinct concept, but there are ways in which The Bold Type makes it feel fresh and significant.

The Bold Type follows three women in their mid-20s, Jane, Kat, and Sutton, who work at Scarlet, a fictional women’s lifestyle magazine that is heavily based on Cosmopolitan. Jane is a staff writer who is especially interested in contributing to Scarlet’s political coverage, but is also assigned stories that incorporate the themes of the episode, including health, fashion, sexuality, morality, and personal growth. In other words, The Bold Type is interested in a comprehensive depiction of young personhood and the aspects of human life most pertinent to young people, with an emphasis on women.

The show also features Melora Hardin in a standout role as Jacqueline Carlyle, the editor-in-chief of Scarlet. At first, Jacqueline’s character seems like another version of The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly: the cutthroat woman boss with unrealistically high expectations of her employees. But The Bold Type takes this trope and subverts it entirely. While Jacqueline is the editor-in-chief and maintains her seniority over the other characters, she also acts as a mentor to the protagonists. The series maintains that an effective editor supports their writers, an idea that is reinforced in the second season when Jacqueline is compared with the editor of a different publication.

If the friendship between Jane, Kat, and Sutton is the most important relationship explored in the series, the mentorship between Jacqueline and Jane is the second most important. Throughout the series, Jacqueline often encourages Jane to broaden her horizons or explore a specific issue through a different lens. I would argue that The Bold Type encourages this of its viewers as well.

It’s not that The Bold Type broadly addressing social issues is groundbreaking, it’s that the show does it so effectively. When it comes to political storylines, The Bold Type feels more grounded than Jane the Virgin, more universal than Dear White People, and more sincere than Riverdale. There are episodes that bring social issues and movements such as racism, gun control, affirmative action, sexual liberation, immigration, and, most notably, the #MeToo movement, into conversation. The show doesn’t attempt to drill a specific perspective into viewers’ minds; instead, it shows just how nuanced these issues are through characters who approach these complex topics from different perspectives.

While I’ve emphasized why The Bold Type is so admirably political, the main draw of the series is its characters. The friendship between Jane, Kat, and Sutton feels lived-in. There is a tangible history to their friendship and their intimate understanding of each other is clear in their interactions, and Jacqueline is that mentor we all wish we had someone who consistently encourages us to elevate our art. The show is character-driven, bringing real faces and voices to the political issues that it approaches. Lesser political shows focus on the politics themselves, often forgetting how those politics affect specific people.

The Bold Type is not an easy sell. In a television climate that values high-concept series with high production value on prestigious networks — think Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, The Handmaid’s Tale it can be easy to overlook the importance of this series.

Personally, I’m a fan of the less-is-more concept. I enjoy series that tackle everyday issues and function as reflections of ourselves. These are characters who I feel I know personally, and who I can have casual conversations about writing, relationships, and politics with over a bottle of wine and an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. This is a show that I find myself thinking about when I consider my own life, my goals, and my personal growth. The Bold Type is not necessarily a show that everyone will enjoy, but it is one that should be on your radar.