Just sittin’ and thinkin’.

Rob Reviews: The Songs of Anne & Gilbert, the Musical

I knew I was in trouble, pretty much right away.

In an effort to salvage some sort of a season out of this Life-On-Hold-And-Oh-Yeah-A-Pandemic-Too situation in which we find ourselves immersed, the producers of perennial The Guild mainstay Anne & Gilbert the Musical stubbornly insisted on “putting on a show” this summer. This, despite pretty much the rest of the theatrical community here on The Island, and around the world, stating “That, sir, is nigh on impossible!” They came upon the idea of presenting The Songs of Anne & Gilbert, the Musical.

It is, they tell us, a pared-back theatrical experience, comprised of six performers, two musicians, and a trio of young dancers, performing select songs from the musical along with a few that never made it into the show.

I knew I was in trouble, pretty much right away.

The Guild has altered its theatre to accommodate the safety of its patrons, according to regulations and guidelines set by the Chief Public Health Office and Renew PEI. So the theatre has a maximum of 50 seats placed in small groupings throughout the audience area. It takes what was already an intimate space and makes it even more intimate.

I knew I was in trouble, pretty much right away.

The show started with a performance of The Log Driver’s Waltz by the three female performers. And, yeah, so, I knew I was in trouble, pretty much right away, when I started crying. Crying at The Log Driver’s Waltz. I never considered this a song to cry at. Definitely a song to enjoy, as experienced via the NFB’s animated short, which I’m including here:

So, I was shocked and curious as to why I found myself crying. Not, like, full-on blubbering wailing or anything. More like lump in throat, welling eyes, quivering bottom lip. It was sung beautifully, wonderful harmonies, and a pure joy of performance. And it made me cry. As I’ve said, I knew I was in trouble, pretty much right away.

So, long story short, I cried my way through the first five songs or so, before I managed to compose myself – only to find actual tears falling down my cheeks again about three-quarters of the way through the show, well after I thought the crying episode was over for me.

So, what happened? Well, the pandemic happened and it, you know, totally screwed up all of our all’s capabilities to deal with our emotions. And then this show happened. This intimate, personal, professional show happened. And I guess I wasn’t ready for it.

The simple staging of the show creates a very warm and inviting, intimate experience. The two musicians – Music Director Lisa MacDougall playing keyboards and accordion, and Laurie Forsyth playing cello and upright bass – remain onstage throughout, with the singers coming and going as their performances require.

The six singers – Jacob Hemphill, Morgan Wagner, Page Gallant, Simone Derome, Nick Whelan, & Melanie Piatocha – are exceptional. When they sing solo, they absolutely own and inhabit the songs they are singing. When they sing together, in duos or trios, or as an ensemble, their voices blend exquisitely, creating pure and beautiful harmonies. All to the point of eliciting tears and emotions – seemingly at whim – from a rather stoic and curmudgeonly middle-aged reviewer.

Each performer gets their moment to introduce themselves and explain their personal connection to the show and its history. And each takes what could be a bit of a hokey “allow me to emote myself” moment and turns it into a personal and touching evocation. Special mention must be made of Morgan Wagner who quadruple-threatened herself into the role of fiddler with the band – a truly impressively talented performer. Even music director Lisa MacDougall, gets in on the feels, and then offers up her rendition of a wonderful ballad. I did find myself wishing for cellist Laurie Forsyth to speak a bit of her experience, to have her own solitary moment. She was the only of the cast, apart from the young dancers, who didn’t have that opportunity of focus.

In trying to figure out why I enjoyed this show so much, I’ve come to the conclusion that something interesting happens when the focus is purely on the songs from a musical. Not having to worry about the story (not that it is a big worry) allows us to devote the entirety of our attentions on the quality of the songwriting. And I was thrilled and excited to realize just how terrific they are. Kudos to writers Jeff Hochhauser, Bob Johnson and Nancy White for their exemplary talents. If nothing else, you’ve created an Island anthem in “Island Through and Through” that will live on forever.

What is perhaps most remarkable, for me, is this: The performances on the night I saw this show made me feel that this night’s show was a special and unique experience. They perform this show six times a week, and I have no doubt that there must be a bit of a rote element to the proceedings for everyone involved. So to make it seem like the show I saw was somehow elevated and special is a testament to the talents of everyone involved in the production.

My only slight criticism of the show has to do with the inclusion of the young dancers who appear a few times throughout. While their participation no doubt adds an injection of energy and movement to an otherwise grounded staging, the quality of performance was rather below the exceptional we experienced throughout the rest of the evening. Just a little bit sloppy. I’ll just leave it at that.

You should go see The Songs of Anne & Gilbert the Musical. For the superb songs. For the talented performances. For the joy of experiencing theatre.

The 8th Hidden Note

I am pretty sure, hidden throughout the house, there are currently seven notes that I’ve written to myself, imploring me not to attempt plumbing repairs on my own.

Let’s consider this to be the 8th.

I’m going to say it was two years ago that I first noticed the faintest sound of trickling water emanating from the tank of our downstairs toilet. It was so faint that I questioned if I was even hearing it. Still, it persisted. Most noticeable in those hours of sitting there in quiet repose and reflection after the Sturm and Drang of necessity ran its course. It seemed so inconsequential a sound that it took a two year drip drip drip of guilt of knowledge of its existence to compel me to act on it.

And here we are.

I’m gonna fix it. Gonna stop that noise. Probably just the flapper or whatever you call it. Easy fix. Shoulda done it ages ago. A simple fix.

I take the top off the tank and peer inside. Everything looks normal but what do I know.

Might be the float. Maybe it’s not rising far enough to stop the mechanism – I don’t know what any of what I’m thinking means. I am only thinking thoughts to make me believe I know what I’m doing. I do not know what I’m doing.

I get a screwdriver and loosen and tighten the plastic screw that seems to affect the ride-height of the float. While it does affect the water level, it seems to have no bearing on the noise – which now that I am dealing with it, has begun to sound like a torrent.

Yep. Flapper. First instinct. Is it called a flapper? Let’s get it off, cleaned and put it back. That’ll solve it. (Deep Brain: No it won’t) Shut up Deep Brain. It will. (Deep Brain: You know, you’ve got notes all throughout the house imploring you to – – ) Shut up, Deep Brain. This doesn’t count. This is an easy fix.

I turn off the water to the toilet. I remove the flapper. It’s easy to do, it just snaps out. I notice a bit of gunk on it, but it doesn’t look too bad. I note that, for a rubber stopper, it seems rather hard. Maybe that’s the issue. Hard rubber. Makes sense. I clean it up and put it back, and listen.

The sound is still there.

Yes, I expected that. Wouldn’t be as easy as that. Not a problem. Probably need a new flapper. That one is way too hard. That’s the problem. Flapper too hard. (Deep Brain: You wanna go look for one of those notes strewn about the house?) No, I wanna get a new flapper. That’ll solve it. Easy fix.

Off to Home Hardware Charlottetown. I take far too long choosing between the handful of different flapper styles they have. Finally pick one. I also, as I’m looking, notice that Home Hardware Charlottetown has a couple different kits to completely replace the inner-workings of toilets. I only bring this up here as a foreshadowing device. That is the only reason I bring that up here.

Hmm. This new flapper doesn’t snap on and off the overflow tube the way the old one does so easily. Will have to fit it on a different way. Should still work. Easy fix. Hmm. Not going on very easy. No worries. When it does go on, it’ll solve the problem.

Wait. That overflow tube seems wiggly. Wait. That overflow tube just snapped off in my hands. Wait. That overflow tube had a hairline fracture in it and that was the reason why there was a trickling water noise. Wait. My efforts to get the new flapper on the overflow tube made it worse and completely broke it off. Wait. I’m going to have to replace the overflow tube. Is that a big job, I wonder. Wait. I saw at Home Hardware Charlottetown they had complete kits that replace the inner-work – – (Deep Brain: I know where you’re going with this, and I’d just like to remind you that there are upwards of seven notes throughout the house imploring you not to do what you’re about to do.) Shut up, Deep Brain. Those kits look super easy to install. I’m going back to Home Hardware Charlottetown.

Back at Home Hardware Charlottetown, and they have two different kits, both the same price. I take forever to decide between the two, but finally make my choice.

Hmm. Looks like I now need to take the tank completely off in order to do this repair. Not a problem. The instructions on that kit make it look pretty simple. Easy fix, still. And I’ll be so proud of myself!! Let’s dive in! (Deep Brain: I’m just going to make myself appear once more, right now, to advise you against this, knowing you’ll ignore me, but still satisfied that I tried.) Thank you Deep Brain. But I got this.

Things go well. Until they don’t. That should be printed on t-shirts or something. I got the tank off the toilet and removed all the innards except one large plastic nut on the outside of the bottom of the tank. I don’t have a plumber’s wrench big enough to grasp this nut.

Oh shit, things were going so well. It was practically fixed! Stupid big nut! How am I going to get this off? This needs to come off! Oh no. I think I made a huge mistake by taking this project on. Shut up, Deep Brain, don’t even show up right now, I’m serious! How do I get this off? I need to find a wrench. Who do I know who might – – FACEBOOK! Ask on Facebook! No, it’ll never get sorted in time, I need a fix now. Take a picture of the nut and post it on Facebook, ask if anyone has a wrench to fit this nut. This is the only solution.

That was a stupid idea. It’ll take way to long to get any response. This needs to get fixed now or I quit. Quit what? I don’t know. Everything. It’s amazing how quickly I’m spiraling when things were working out so well just a few moments ago. Call a plumber. Call your plumber people. I can’t, it’s embarrassing. Yet I need it fixed, right? Call and ask if I can borrow a plumber’s wrench for a minute so I can get this nut off the bottom of my toilet. That sentence sounds insane.

This is not a call one makes every day. This is a call one needs to think about. One needs to have a firm grasp of what one is going to say on the phone. Otherwise this could go off the rails pretty quick. So, I take some time to fully prepare my script in my head. I have prepared and I am ready. I make the call.

The gist of my plea is this: Good afternoon, Miss. I am in a bit of a bind with a plumbing project I now realize I should never have attempted. In order to rectify my current dilemma, I am requesting the following. Can I take my toilet tank to your place of business and either momentarily, while on site, borrow a plumber’s wrench to remove a large nut, or perhaps someone there would be able to assist me in its removal?

It doesn’t go as planned. My well-thought-out and precise script was nowhere to be found once I heard the “hello” on the other end. I could only spurt out words, not sentences. “Toilet tank”… “Nut on the bottom”… “take my toilet to you” things like that. I am so full of panic and distress and anxiety that I can only laugh. So I quickly include giggles and reams of laughter to my monologue of toilet-related word-salad. I can only imagine the lady on the other end thinking “It’s far too late on a Wednesday for this phone prank shit”. But she was polite and able to decipher my needs.

“Yeah, as long as one of the boys is here, it shouldn’t be a problem,” she says.

“Is a boy there now?” I cannot express how ashamed of myself for saying this like this.

I take the toilet tank to the plumbers. They are, like, two minutes away from where I live. In the time it takes me to get there, it seems the news of the phone conversation traveled to every boy in the company, because upon my arrival – toilet tank in trunk – plumbers appeared from every corner of the business. To see, I assume, what a madman looks like.

Guy takes a power saw to the nut and removes it. I won’t mention here how, when I took the tank out of the trunk to place it on the ground for nut-removal, it slipped out of my hands and fell to the pavement. Only a drop of a few inches, but in the time it took the tank to fall, I heard the power-saw guy, and those who were amassed around us watching the spectacle – I heard them all gasp as if they were fully expecting the tank to smash to bits and pieces. To me, each gasp was like a devil-of-sorts taking a nibble out of whatever sense of respectability I had left.

The toilet tank did not smash into bits and pieces. He got the nut off, and I returned home a shaken man. Those gasps still haunt me. My head, at this time, was not in a good space. I was beaten, once again, by a plumbing project, and I knew it. The only thing left was to finish the job. Begrudgingly and with no room for good humour. I am thankful that Deep Brain didn’t show up to rub it in my face.

To my credit, the rest of the repair went quite well. I replaced the innards, got the tank back on the toilet – all without issue. My good humour was even returning.

Everything is done! Tank back in place, new innards implanted and set up correctly. Just to reconnect the water supply, fill her up and enjoy the lack of noise.

Just reconnect the water supply.

Couldn’t do it. Try and try as I might, I couldn’t thread the water line to the toilet tank. The final task. The final, simple task to complete this whole project. Couldn’t do it. Try as I might. Swearing and yelling in frustration didn’t help. Getting soaked, laying on the bathroom floor, again and again as I see if this time maybe it threaded correctly, only to be sprayed, time and again by the mocking, fissing spray – that didn’t help. Vowing to never again tackle a plumbing project did not help.

“I’ll help you draft another note” said Deep Brain. I nodded.

I couldn’t do it. So close to the end. A simple threading of a nut onto a pipe, and I couldn’t do it. I tried so hard in so many ways to get it to thread. And I couldn’t do it. The simplest of all plumbing tasks, and I couldn’t accomplish it. I hung my head in shame.

I exited that bathroom, in the end, a broken, defeated man. Plumbing had won again. I walked into the living room, to my wife, and in a voice so quiet that it’s only rival for lack of volume was the barely-audible noise that started this whole affair, I said “You’ll need to call a plumber in the morning.”

“I don’t know what to say to them. Can’t you?”

“I can’t.” That’s all I could reply. “I can’t”.

Mercifully, I wasn’t at home the next morning when the plumber showed up. I couldn’t have faced him. I couldn’t have faced another human witnessing the state of how I left the project, so close to completion. I am told he said I did a good job in the replacing of the parts and putting the tank back on. I am told it took him only a minute to hook up the water supply to the tank. It is empty praise.

The water is hooked up, the toilet works great. And there is no more trickling noise.

So. Rob. Before you ever consider tackling another plumbing project, please, please, please, read this, the eighth note advising you not to do it.