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Sharp and Natural

2 Pianos, 4 Hands

Review by Treva McNally

Donna Gardner and Jacqueline Sadler in 2 Pianos 4 Hands. Photo: AlannaWhen 2 Pianos, 4 Hands was in Charlottetown for a short time in 1997 starring its creators, Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, I was unable to go and listened enviously to others rave about it. I really wanted to see it as I had taken piano lessons for many years, so when it was scheduled to be at the Mackenzie Theatre in the summer of 2001, I made sure I had a ticket.

Donna Garner and Jacqueline Sadler are the only performers in this play but with just their pianos for props, they are able to fill the stage with students, teachers, parents, adjudicators and examiners. Working together in a flawless team, the actresses create a cast of characters which includes an eight year old practicing on a piano, a teenager competing at a festival, a parent trying to make a child practice, and an elderly teacher trying to inspire an untalented student. The two stars are such good actresses that you almost forget they are also great musicians, but the music seldom stops as the scene shifts from one piano to the next without a beat being missed. Garner and Sadler play separately on their own pianos, together at one piano, and then together on two pianos, and through it all, they entertain and make you laugh.

You don't have to have been a music student to be able to appreciate the music festival adjudicator listening for three days to the same piece of music being performed by novice musicians, and any athlete can relate to the grind of having to practice something over and over to achieve perfection. Probably only a musician can appreciate the agony of being asked by an examiner to play a scale in C sharp minor when there are so many other easier ones, but everyone can appreciate being asked to perform a difficult task under pressure. That Garner and Sadler can take these situations and make them hilariously funny is a reflection of a good script in the hands of strong actresses.

The program says that this is one of the most successful shows in Canadian theatre history, having played in Europe, Australia, and the United States after being introduced in Canada in 1996. I'm glad it's in Charlottetown again and that I went to see it. It was worth waiting for.

Bright Water Odyssey

England and Large combine for summer-long show

by Treva McNally

Margaret England (left) and Daphne Large

Those of us who live on an Island usually have a special feeling about the water which surrounds us, but Margaret England has a passion for it. Combining her fabric art with the pottery sculptures of Daphne Large, she displays her love for water in an incredible exhibit, Bright Water Odyssey, which runs until the end of September at the Eptek Centre in Summerside.

The exhibit is subtitled "An uplifting celebration of water from Creation to the Beatles' Octopus's Garden" and it's an accurate description of the variety in the nearly one hundred pieces of art in the show. England's art depicts fish, water vessels, washday, Noah's Ark, bath time, caves, rain, coral, tea kettles, Jonah, fishermen and various sea creatures, while Large's features fish, frogs, working water fountains, and serving pieces decorated with dragonflies, sea grapes, and seaweed. The exhibit was put together by Eptek Director Nonie Fraser and creates an atmosphere which is uncluttered and restful with the sounds of water bubbling from fountains throughout the exhibit.

A three-piece fabric art aquarium in the lobby sets the stage for the show which opened in early May to the music of Jubilate, a group from the Kensington area which sing 16th century music a capella. The opening was a very relaxed affair as family and friends of the two artists shared their pride with those who came to see the show. (If you have never attended the opening of an art exhibit, consider attending the next one you see advertised. It's free, fun, usually featuring entertainment and refreshments, and is a chance to hear artists speak about their art. It's an enjoyable way to spend an hour or two, and is a strong incentive to want original artworks for your home.)

Margaret England's work is a complex combination of stitchery and fabric painting on multilayered fabrics and homemade paper, and the result is breathtaking. It takes several viewings to appreciate the complexity of each work as you first look at the effect, then take in the details, and then try to figure out how the effect was achieved. I was mesmerized by the sunset in "By the Sea", enjoyed the whimsy of "Washday Blues" and the symmetry of "Islamic Garden". The huge waves tossing Noah's Ark in "The Great Flood" attracted attention from people at the opening, as did "St. Brendan Sets out for the Land of Promise."

Daphne Large's sculptures for this show are primarily in the blue, green and black colours of the water we see around us. I particularly liked her table fountains where she filled beautiful bowls with sculptured rocks made in sandstone colours but in more interesting colour combinations and shapes than you are ever able to find on the shore.

The two artists have been associated with each other since 1975 when Large asked England for some work to feature at her New London studio. Both artists have evolved considerably in the ensuing years and Bright Water Odyssey reflects their high skill level. The walls at the exhibit feature several quotes, and one seemed particularly appropriate:

"The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it." -Chinese philosopher

If you don't have an entire day to sit on the bank of a river or at the shore, consider taking an hour or so to see this exhibit and to contemplate the beauty and importance of water. It will be time well spent.

The People's Choice

Ben Stahl is voted The People's Choice at this year's Great Garden of the Gulf Juried Exhibition

by Treva McNally

 Director of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery Jon Tupper (left) with artist Ben Stahl and his prize-winning painting

Anyone who visited the Great Garden of the Gulf Juried Exhibition at the Confederation Centre was not surprised to learn that after all the votes were counted for the People's Choice Award, the winner was Ben Stahl's oil painting titled "Child of the Holocaust." Stahl is an artist and illustrator, and this stunning work was created as the cover for a book.

All Ben Stahl ever wanted was to follow in his artist father's footsteps to be an illustrator. Illustration requires collaboration between an artist and an author and publisher to make visual what has been created by words, and a good illustrator can bring a book to life. For example, it is not possible to think of A.A. Milne's books without the illustrations by Ernest Shepard which forever defined our images of Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, and Christopher Robin.

Stahl taught art at Bridgeport University and at the Ringling School of Art for fifteen years, then was head of the Famous Artists European branch in Amsterdam for three years until he became a full-time illustrator in 1972. Ten years ago, Bantam Books asked Stahl to illustrate two L. M. Montgomery novels it was reprinting, and he had no idea the impact this assignment would have on his life. He was an award-winning illustrator living outside New York and knew nothing about Prince Edward Island, so he asked staff at the Canadian consulate for slides and information to help him create the covers. Bantam liked the results and asked him to collaborate on four more Montgomery novels.

When he discovered how many Montgomery books there were and that they were all set on Prince Edward Island, he realized that if he were going to continue to illustrate these books, he should visit the Island to see what Montgomery was writing about, because the location played such an important part in her stories. He came for a week that summer to do research and later in the fall made another trip with his wife. They came again the next summer before making the decision that this was where they wanted to live full-time.

Stahl continues to work for his publishers in New York from a Richmond Street studio and has created thirty-six paintings for L.M. Montgomery novels alone. Working on P.E.I. has resulted in changes to the process he uses to create his illustrations. When he first came, he continued to use New York models to pose for the photographs he uses to paint his illustrations, but he decided to try taking the photographs on P.E.I. using Island models and it has worked well. (If you look closely at his book covers and posters, you may recognize some of the people in them.)

All his life, he has enjoyed working as an illustrator, painting what others have paid him to paint, and he has done it very well. But lately, he has considered creating a work that is not dependent on someone else's story. A large white canvas leans against the wall in his studio waiting for inspiration and his brush. If the result is only half as good as "Child of the Holocaust," it will be worth waiting for.

The Buzz is the 2001 sponsor of the People's Choice Award, and we would like to congratulate Ben Stahl on his award, and thank everyone who took the time to visit the exhibition and cast their ballots-Editor.

New Brammer Show

L.W. (Ken) Brammer exhibits new work at the reopening of Island Posters

by Treva McNally

If you've ever walked along Richmond Street in the summer and looked in the window of Island Posters, you will recognize the work of painter L.W. (Ken) Brammer (right). His island scenes are often made into posters of which "French River" and "The Confederation Bridge" are probably the most easily recognized. Sold exclusively at Island Posters by Patricia Sorrells and Ben Stahl, his oil paintings have found their way into homes around the world.

Before moving to Canada from Britain, he trained as a house painter and decorator and served in the Royal Air Force. On P.E.I., he married Jane Champion and while they raised their family, he served as the Deputy Minister of Labor, the C.E.O. of the Labour Relations Board, and Chairman of the Arbitration Board. Although he always wanted to paint, it wasn't until his retirement from the work force that he had the time to try. He started with art lessons where he learned what he wanted to paint and the style which suited him. Then he borrowed books from the library, bought a few art books, and started painting for himself and his family.

Eventually, he arrived at the point all serious hobbyist reach-you and everyone you know cannot use any more of your work, so the options are either to stop producing or to find a new outlet for your hobby. He made arrangements to hang three of his paintings in a gallery where Ben Stahl saw them and recognized their potential, beginning a professional relationship that continues to this day.

His panoramic paintings reflect the rural scenes of PEI which he discovers when he fishes and golfs during in the summer. He only paints in the winter but is a prolific artist who produces approximately twenty paintings a year. He laughed when he told the story of an American art critic who saw his paintings in New York. The critic liked them but said he should change the red colour of the roads-they weren't realistic!

He doesn't do many winter scenes, even though one he did of the Haunted Woods in Cavendish was beautiful. Looking out at the huge snowbanks that plagued us this winter, he remarked that no one seems to want to look at any more snow than they have to, and it was not a commercial success.

Although he most often paints Island scenery with its variety of reds and greens and big skies, he has tried other subjects (though usually for family and friends) and he does these extremely well. I particularly liked one of a country auction in Kings County, and another of Sydney Street in Charlottetown.

Island Posters reopens for the season on April 28 with a three-week show of Ken Brammer's work from the past winter. This friendly, talented man has produced some beautiful paintings this year-I saw them unframed, and I'm looking forward to seeing them properly hung. If you take a walk on Richmond Street, you can seen them too.

Take Your Pick

Great Garden of the Gulf Exhibition

by Treva McNally

Canadian Winter by Teri MorrisAfloat by Teri Morris

The end of January brings the Seventh Great Garden of the Gulf Juried Exhibition to the Confederation Centre Art Gallery and this year, more than 180 pieces of the best art being produced on the Island were submitted for judging.

Last year, I went down to the Centre during the judging period to see everything that had been submitted, and then I went back when the chosen works were hung for exhibit. I enjoyed the challenge of seeing if my selections would bear any similarity to what the judges chose, and was pleased that more than half my selections matched those of the judges. Then I realized that this really wasn't too hard to do because each year there will always be at least ten or twelve pieces which stand out as significantly better than the rest and would be included no matter who did the judging. The balance of the selections will be a reflection of the artistic taste or values of those on the jury.

Common-Law by Tammy Peters

Andrew Hunter was the juror chosen this year to pick the works which would be shown, and when I read about his selection process in the newspaper, I wondered what type a show he would assemble. He had picked two paintings by Teri Morris, "Afloat" and "Canadian Winter" as his starting point and used their themes of land and sea to form the exhibit. The result is a show that ties together thematically but seems more uneven in talent compared to last year's show.

But it really doesn't matter because those really good pieces are still there. No matter what your artistic taste, there probably isn't a person in the world who would not have chosen Ben Stahl's "Child of the Holocaust" for inclusion. It is a breathtaking work and would be at home in any gallery. Richard Vickerson's "Howatt's," a watercolour of an Island homestead, and Sylvia Ridgway's batik "Birches-Whatever the Season" would also likely be choices in any show. Greg Garand's impressionist oil, "Summer Street," depicting Summerside is a piece of art I would always enjoy looking at.

Watching Ryan, oil painting by Brian Swanson on the wall at the Great Garden of the Gulf exhibition

I liked Brian Swanson's oil, "Watching Ryan," showing a couple on the beach, Brian Burke's "Elusive Image #2" of a faceless man, Levi Cannon's carving of "The Sacred Herons," John Cox's huge floral, "Glasgow Leaves-Oxford Flowers," Wendell R. Dennis's use of light on a lighthouse in "Rustico Lights," Lesley Dubey's intaglio and chalk "Crows of Fanningbank 5," Nan Ferrier's busy, detailed "Montague Montage," and Sue Gallant's close-up photograph of a burned building, "PEI dividing line series #3."

When you go through the gallery, your list of favourites will probably include a few I've chosen here, but you'll likely see a few that will make you wonder why I didn't include them in this article. But just as with a jury, it's all a matter of taste. The show runs until March 25 and is well worth a look.

The Writers in Group

TWiG members meet regularly to discuss their own written work

by Treva McNally

Did you know there was a writers' group on PEI? Well, there is and they've been meeting for more that five years. Calling themselves TWIG (The Writers in Group), they meet every Tuesday at 1 pm in the basement of the Kirk of St. James to read each others work, to encourage one another, and to critique their essays, poetry, and fiction.

They are a diverse group with little in common but their love of writing. Many are retired, but several are still working at their day jobs because being a writer does not necessarily pay well, no matter how good you are. And some of these writers are very good; as a group, they have five publications to their credit.

The format of the meeting is to sit around a table and take turns reading aloud what has been written. Before hearing each writer's work, members receive copies of what is going to be read so that they can write comments on it. Following the reading, there is a brief discussion and the written comments are passed back to the author. It is not intimidating, and there is lots of laughter in between and during the critiques.

At the meeting I attended, Bernie Callaghan read his poem about Robert Homme (a.k.a. The Friendly Giant) called "A Parent's Lament," in which he recalled the quiet gentle ways of Friendly, Jerome and Rusty. It was mentioned that he forgot to mention Friendly's recorder, but I didn't think it was necessary because as he read in a soft slow voice like Robert Homme, I was listening to the melody of "Early One Morning" playing in my mind.

The writing is as diverse as the participants: Marie Sheehan read powerful prose describing how she became involved in the hospice movement; Garst Reese read the beginning of his essay on the physics of a penny; Shirley Limbert read a small poem about babies and received some spacing suggestions about how to make it look better on the page; and Alice Anna Reese read her essay on "Critiquing and Responding" which everyone agreed should be given to all new members. Not everyone reads his or her work each week as the suggested standard is to bring something every two weeks.

The members describe themselves as a support group, and they acknowledge that there is no right or wrong way to write. Their goal is to help each other make their intentions clearer to the audience for which the piece is written. The TWIG Anthology, a collection of their work which was published in 1998, illustrates the variety and quality of their writings. Try a meeting-it's really interesting and anyone who likes to write is welcome to attend. Members of The Writers in Group (TWiG) will read from their works at the Reading Well Bookstore in Charlottetown on October 28 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Can I tell you a story?

by Treva McNally

Rowboat in the Attic

Listening to a good story teller is a most enjoyable way to pass the time. We on Prince Edward Island are blessed with an abundance of good story tellers and this summer, some of the best have created shows to entertain us.
The first show I saw was Nancy Beck's Rowboat in the Attic. It is presented as lunchtime theatre at the Arts Guild and is a small show-only 55 minutes long with a very affordable admission price of $7. You can buy your lunch there from the Uncommon Grocer, who sells hearty and healthy sandwiches, desserts, snacks and beverages, or you can bring your own. There are tables set up for those who are eating lunch, and rows of chairs for those who just come to enjoy the show.
Nancy's tells stories of her family's big home at the end of Inkerman Lane which had originally been owned by a Father of Confederation, John Hamilton Gray, and of the several generations of Beck's family who lived there after Gray. Although John Hamilton Gray was an eccentric who kept a rowboat in the attic to be prepared for a flood, Beck's relatives were every bit as eccentric. That is one of the charms of the show-everyone has relatives and can identify with her stories. Beck is a talented performer, and while the show is funny and entertaining, it is also a fascinating glimpse of the history of Charlottetown. 
When the show ends, you feel like taking a tour of the city and going into the old Hughes drugstore (which is now Cows) to see where she was talking about.

Greenmount Boy

The next show I saw was David Weale's Greenmount Boy. Weale is a master story teller, as his U.P.E.I. students can tell you, and he begins his show by telling how his father came to Canada from Wales, and then moved the family from Alberta to P.E.I. Weale describes his show as "before electricity, before pavement, before boughten bread..." This was rural life on the Island in the 1950s, and this is the world as seen through the eyes of a five year old who has just moved to Greenmount, P.E.I. 
Weale is a spellbinding storyteller who had people laughing out loud throughout his performance, and this show is a strong follow-up to A Long Way from the Road. He plays at the Arts Guild all summer, and he will also be giving performances in Victoria in August and September.

The Most Amazing Things

The Victoria Playhouse is the site of Erskine Smith's The Most Amazing Things. It's always a pleasure to go to Victoria to visit the village and experience the Victoria Playhouse with which Erskine Smith has been associated for over 25 years. This year he presents an evening of stories of his life in and around the village. I attended the premiere performance and it was very well received. It was followed with a beautiful candle-lit reception at the old schoolhouse for the first-night patrons. Milling around at the reception, I was surrounded by many of the people Erskine had just told us about and they assured me the stories were true. His show is light and humourous with many self deprecating stories of his attempts to earn a living as an entertainer, of the challenges of moving into a small village, and of the people who live there. Erskine is an experienced performer who was born to be on stage, and he gives a very enjoyable performance.

You Take the High Road

Ceilidh on the Road

Review by Treva McNally

The Confederation Centre is definitely on the right track having shows in June and October. The night I went to Ceilidh on the Road, there was almost a full house and the members of the audience were nearly all tourists. The small Studio Theatre (formerly the Lecture Theatre) is well suited to this type of show although I wish the Confederation Centre would install theater seats in this well-used venue.

The members of this production are a very talented group. The house band, with only three members, could easily be a show in itself. Mark Haines, who sings while he fiddles and is a multi-talented, funny performer, is an Ontario native who now calls PEI home. Brad Fremlin is a marvelous keyboard player, and his drum solo brought the audience to its feet. And although a cello is not usually thought of as an instrument for a ceilidh, Rick Tersteeg made it work.

The four little College of Piping dancers were impressive, and so was their instructor, Colleen Taylor, whose step-dancing solos were most enjoyable. Jessica MacLeod-Dent is a World Champion highland dancer and the height she achieved when dancing was breathtaking. The dancers were a pleasure to watch.

Patricia Murray, who is the host for the show, has a beautiful voice and while the choice of songs showed off her voice and her Gaelic, it didn't seem to create the right atmosphere in the first half of the show. In the second half, she led the audience in a medley of more familiar songs and the audience became quite involved. Scott MacAulay is a great piper and I thoroughly enjoyed his chanting. Ceilidh on the Road was written and produced by Jack McAndrew, and he's an impressive sight in full Scottish regalia, telling stories and greeting the audience as they enter. In true ceilidh tradition, everyone is given the opportunity to join in. The night I was there, fiddler Richard Wood was in the audience and he was invited to do a short set with the band.

As good as all the performers are, the show misses the opportunity to be great. Produced as a showcase for the College of Piping and Performing Arts, it has a tendency at times to feel like an infomercial. The performers themselves are the college's best advertisement and the show just needs to focus on letting these exceptional singers and dancers entertain us.

Events Calendar

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