Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Hello, I must be going

I hurried up Vancouver Street on one of my last evenings of this year's Victoria visit. It was an achingly beautiful August evening, full of golden light and memories.  I was, after all, passing through my old neighbourhood.  When I last lived in it, my children were tiny.

I was on my way to the Blue Bridge Theatre's production of Animal Crackers: a) because Blue Bridge does pretty damn good theatre - many of the actors have impressive CVs - and b) because I've adored the Marx Brothers since I was seventeen.  Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and (sometimes) Zeppo helped me survive high school.

During my final nightmarish spring of secondary education, I was staying in the dorms at the University of Victoria for a brief, province-wide drama workshop.

Our teacher had summoned us to a late-night reading of the riot act about drugs and alcohol at the conference.  (This was rich; said teacher was a notorious party animal.)  I had decided that, having partaken of neither, I was too damn tired to sit through a hypocritical harangue after a day of workshops and performances.  I was one of the few without a room-mate, so I was drifting off to the soundtrack of Duck Soup, when someone came hammering on my door.

It was Arty, a diminutive redhead in my sister's grade, whose voice had not yet changed.

"What is it?" I called out crossly.
"Mr Carr says you gotta come to the meeting."
"I've gone to bed, Arty.  I don't drink."

Pause.  The Marx Brothers were warbling "All God's Children Got Guns".

"Are you coming?"
"No, Arty."

Pause. Oh hidey-hidey-hidey-hidey-hidey-hidey-ho....

"Please?  He says you gotta...."
"F*#& off, Arty!"

People told me afterwards that Arty was seen forlornly drifting into the meeting, muttering:  ". . . and she told me to f*#& off. . . ."

(About ten years later, Arty was killed in a freak accident involving something like a wood chipper.  I used to know the details, but frankly, I've preferred not to think about it.  Poor Arty.)

I shook off the past and entered into the past offered by The Blue Bridge Theatre's production of Animal Crackers - a version of the 1920s where there was swing-dancing.  Odd.

As in common in these days of little funds for the arts, most of the actors doubled up on roles with the exception of those playing Groucho (RJ Peters) and Harpo (Britt Small).  Wes Borg, playing Chico, also appeared briefly as a bum.  Like Harpo, the ingenue male lead was played by a woman, presumably for her dancing skills.  But you know, it's not like anything in the Marx Brothers' universe made a helluva lotta sense to begin with.

The play featured the elements that Animal Crackers is known for:  "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" with "Hello, I Must Be Going"; the "strange interlude" sequence -- and several elements that aren't from Animal Crackers:  "Everybody Says I Love You", which featured in the Marx Brothers movie Horsefeathers and "Three Little Words", which didn't, but like the other ditties, was a Kalmer and Ruby composition.

During the first act, I was grateful to not be seated in the front row, as they became Groucho fodder.  However, I was seated alone in the second row (it was a preview night), and as the lights went down at the end of the intermission, and a romantic duet began, Groucho plopped into the seat next to me.
Oh gawd, I thought.
"He's not bad, is he?  Sounds just like Michael BublĂ©." (This was a running gag.)
I nodded agreeably and wished he would go away.

At this point, Chico came hawking popcorn down the aisle, and shot a bag at Groucho.  I noted that not a single kernel had spilt, and gingerly pulled one loose when Groucho obligingly held out the bag to me.  I ditched it after he loped back on to the stage.

The extravaganza ended with a dizzying pastiche of parodies from recent Broadway blockbusters -- after the first curtain call.  Groucho appeared at centre-stage and declared:  "One of the advantages of being dead for the last forty years is that I haven't had to see any of these!"

I wished, once again, that younger daughter could have seen this.  She would have loved the singing, the dancing, the costumes, and the physical humour.

I managed to catch the 10:30 Quadra and set off at a race-walk from Pandora.  This had been a golden fifteen-to-twenty-minute stroll at 6:30, but now Victoria had turned into a spooky ghost-town, no one on the streets but the homeless trying to sleep against shop-fronts, and an occasional dark figure that seemed to be trailing me by half a block.  I made it back through the shadows to Demeter's in ten minutes.

I am telling you, I must be going.

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