Rob’s Too-Many-Word Review of ‘good girl’

Let me start off by saying this, right up front: I was never a Musical Theatre Kid. In my formative theatre years, I eschewed the very notion of musical theatre. I saw it as the Synchronized Swimmer’s Smile of the theatre world. Fake and Forced. To this punk rock loving (clean-cut) kid, it was akin to the devil Disco. You see, I fell into theatre with that punk rock mythos as my credo – three chords, a middle-finger to the establishment, a severe lack of any structural ability to perform, yet an overwhelming desire to get on stage and make something. 

I can now recognize that this naive and erroneous point of view was, and is, a failing on my part. Obviously, I was (am) an idiot, and my haughtiness was based on my total lack of exposure to, awareness of, and ignorance about the rich tapestry of musical theatre blah blah blah. (that ‘blah blah blah’ is not an indictment of musical theatre, by the way. Rather, it should be seen as my sudden and profound disinterest in my very own spouting off on things of which I know too little. Just get to the matter at hand, Rob!)

Still, I feel  it important to preface this review with that information about my deep-seated disdain for musical theatre, because it turns out, Melissa MacKenzie’s show ‘good girl’ (a Kitbag Theatre production) contains a lot of musical theatre numbers. Like, a lot. And I thought it would be best to give you readers a strong foundational POV for this journey through my ‘good girl’ experience. Sort of an “oh my god, he hates musical theatre and this show is basically jam-packed with musical theatre references and songs, oh my god, they’re either going to hate each other or fall in love!

So, going into ‘good girl – on the second of a two-night run, with a boisterous and exuberant sold-out audience on a mid-April evening at the Trailside Music Hall in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island – I was fairly unaware of what I was stepping into. I was half-expecting a theatrical one-person show type of experience, in which songs would play a part. The Facebook Event described ‘good girl’ as Melissa “navigating love, sex, and the muiscal theatre industry after growing up Good.”  Joining Melissa, it was promised, was “an all-star team of musicians and performers for a night of Mrs. Maisel-esque storytelling and tunes of every genre.”

For the record, and only as an aside, I watched maybe half of season one of Mrs. Maisel, and enjoyed it a fair bit until halfway through an episode I suddenly couldn’t bear to watch any more of it. I have not returned to it.

So, here’s ‘good girl’ in a nutshell: Over the course of Part One, Melissa tells us about growing up in a very strict Christian family and community where she was taught and indoctrinated into believing that being the Good Girl was paramount. Interspersed with this storytelling are plenty of songs, well-chosen as a sort of subterfuge and sabotage of the indoctrinating mindset. In Part Two, she focuses on how that repression profoundly affected and confused her sexual awakening. Again, she drops in a plethora of songs that joyously accentuate and embellish her move towards accepting and appreciating herself as a sexual being.

All those words I’ve written so far, and I’ve yet to say what I thought of the show. Well, here that is:

Melissa MacKenzie is an astoundingly talented performer. She sings breathtakingly, seemingly without effort, and is masterful at it. To my ear, every song she sang, she absolutely nailed. I was honestly astonished at her skill of performance during several of the songs.

I should come clean here and say that I did not recognize even one of the songs that was sung throughout the night. Blame that on my musical theatre ignorance. But it turns out that doesn’t matter in the least. I was very happy to be able to discover them through Melissa’s wonderful interpretations. When she sings, she is very much in her element, and her joy of performance is contagious.

I’ll also add here that Melissa wasn’t alone on stage. True to the promise in the Facebook event writeup, she had assembled an all-star, killer group of performers to support her occasionally throughout the night with sharp and expressive instrumentation, and beautiful background and harmony singing. 

Morgan Saulnier should soon be getting an Order of PEI pin for all she does to make music on this Island as wonderful as it is. She seems to be involved in pretty much everything as a musical director, accompanist, and, I expect, as an inspiration to so many musicians and singers in our community. She really is remarkable. And adding to the “all-star” element are a handful of artists who each could headline a night of music in their own right – Jessica Burrett, Brielle Ansems, Morgan Wagner all sing and instrumentate (don’t look it up) and percuss to perfection, as Marlee Saulnier on saxophone ups the artistry even more for a number of songs.

So, yeah, the musical component was absolutely fantastic – as good as you’d see or hear anywhere – and plentiful. Melissa can truly do it all, it seems, when it comes to musical styles and genres. My favourite selection came near the end of the evening when Melissa sits at the piano to accompany herself on a really phenomenal song she wrote herself. After a night of already stellar performances, she elevates everything and somehow manages to discover new depths of emotion and honesty. I’d love to hear more original songs from her.

Without question, Melissa is a huge talent as a singer. Going into this evening, I was perhaps expecting to see more of a theatrical experience that would also include songs as support to the storytelling. What I got, it turns out, is quite the opposite – a packed songbook of an evening where the stories – as important and personal as they obviously are to Melissa – end up being the glue to bind the song selections together. 

If I had a criticism of ‘good girl’ – and I suppose I do, since I’m about to express it – it’s that I would love the storytelling to be as impactful as the music.  When she is performing the written portions, telling the stories of her struggles with the concept of being a Good Girl, Melissa is sharp, funny, assured, engaging, and obviously knows how to earn and command attention. She gives us plenty of wonderful lines and anecdotal insights, all well told. She pretty much had my rapt attention all night long.  

So, what’s the criticism, Rob? Maybe it was just me, but I found myself wanting to see just a bit more of a deeper exploration and investment into the emotional aspects of the story of this journey – the theatricality of it all, if you will. Particularly in Part One, she often seemed to take on something of what I’d describe as a character persona version of herself as she relayed these quite personal and traumatic events and elements in her life. 

Maybe this is where the Mrs. Maisel reference comes into play? It’s like at times she chose – perhaps for comedic effect – to remain a step removed from what she is speaking about. I sometimes found myself wishing to see past that persona. In Part Two, that persona dropped away much more frequently, and we saw what I assume is more of the true essence of Melissa. It was Melissa speaking truth to us, in the emotion and in the moment. And in those moments – especially in the aforementioned performance of the song she wrote herself – the impact is profound. I just wish there were more of those moments.

And even though I just spent a couple of paragraphs speaking about that, it really is a fairly minor criticism and didn’t really detract from what was a thoroughly entertaining and enlightening evening of storytelling and music.

The music is all there. The talent is all there. But I think there’s potential to expand and heighten the emotional impact of the theatrical aspects of this musical theatre experience. I believe Melissa considers ‘good girl’ to be a continuing work-in-progress so I have no doubt that as she continues to perform and tweak this as an artistic piece, she will discover ways to better achieve that, should she choose to.

I’ve been coming around a bit, in the past few years, to Musical Theatre as a concept, and I’ve made a pointed attempt to appreciate musical theatre more. I have a long, long way to go, but I’m happy to be on that road, now, at least. And experiencing ‘good girl’ is fully a musical theatre expedition I can easily and wholeheartedly endorse.

I’m not sure if we ended up falling in love with each other, but I certainly enjoyed the experience and am very happy with the time I spent getting to know Melissa MacKenzie’s ‘good girl’.

If, and when, Melissa remounts ‘good girl’ in a theatre or music hall near you, take it from me – a guy who’s had a very challenging relationship to Musical Theatre – it is a night of entertainment you owe to yourself to enjoy and experience.

Island Roads – CBC Mainstreet 1991

With Trevor Arsenault & Archie MacDonald

Welcome to Island Roads, where we explore the Main Streets, and the Side Roads, and the Back Alleys of PEI’s History, and it’s Culture, and it’s Folklore to boot!

In the summer of 1991, David Moses and I created, for CBC Radio Charlottetown, a short radio series called Island Roads. Here are some remembrances I have on that whole endeavour.

I was the sidekick. In those early years of creating plays and establishing an impossibly low-budget black box theatre company (see A History of Off Stage Theatre), I was the eager sidekick to the Idea and Implementation Guy, David Moses. It was, no doubt, David who came up with the germs of the idea for Island Roads, and who was responsible for making it a reality. As with so many things at that time, I was glad to just come along for the ride.

Around this time, David was, I think, doing some occasional work at CBC Charlottetown, or at the very least, was in the orbit of Chris Straw, the producer of their afternoon radio program Mainstreet. Chris was relatively new to Charlottetown and was looking for ways to move Mainstreet away from the news-centric program it was and into a more entertaining, loosey-goosey, and conversational show.

From our first meetings together, to the end of his time here in Charlottetown, Chris was a champion of the kinds of things David and I were doing, and he went above and beyond to find ways to get us on the radio. He was chagrined that he couldn’t afford to pay us as actual, you know, creators of original fictionalized content. The costs would have been prohibitive. So in an effort to at least get something fun and interesting done, he, and we, came up with the idea that we would be creating content, but under the guise of journalists. And it was through this sort-of loophole that Island Roads was born.

[Chris Straw’s enjoyment of our stuff – a small group of us also performed live improv on Mainstreet semi-regularly for a brief while – went a long way to making me feel like I was legitimately funny and had value as a performer. To this day, I appreciate the faith and respect he showed towards me during those early days of my creative life. He was so obviously and grandly talented in what he did, and I had such respect for him and was glad to call him a friend for that brief time. We lost contact with each other when Chris moved to the CBC in BC. I knew he had became producer of Basic Black for awhile, but hadn’t really followed his career after that. I was shocked and saddened to hear, in March 2021, that he had suddenly passed away due to a freak construction accident at a neighbour’s house.]

And so it was decided that Island Roads would come into being and exist for as long as we could get away with it. David and I would assume the characters of Trevor Arsenault (David) and Archie MacDonald (me) – true to our real-life relationship, Archie was very much a sidekick to the more knowledgeable and worldly Trevor – and we would create episodes of entertainment under the banner of journalists. To his credit, Chris more or less left the content of the episodes up to us, and we left it to him to edit our oodles of improvisations and meanderings into tight little pieces. Considering what we often provided to him, it’s clear he was really good at his job.

Here, then, are the six (plus one) episodes (and my recollections) of Island Roads we created for CBC Charlottetown’s Mainstreet radio program during the summer of 1991.

01. Pownal Magnetic Hill

Island Roads – Episode One – Pownal Magnetic Hill

For our first episode, we decided to highlight the Pownal Magnetic Hill. (If you’ve never experienced it, it’s a pretty great optical illusion. You really do feel like your vehicle is being pulled up the hill. Directions to it, in the episode) With the hindsight of 30 years, I might assume that we thought by dedicating an episode – our first – to a fairly innocuous and relatively unknown “attraction” like this it would be indicative of the type of nonsense we’d be getting up to for this series. The reality, probably, was less of a contrivance and more of a “here’s the only stupid idea we have, let’s see if this works”.

Our method for the episodes would be to roughly pre-plan some story beats we’d like to record, and then improvise around those beats. Nothing was ever written down or very much pre-planned. So, for instance in this episode, I think we decided “Trevor will ask Archie to get the map out and Archie doesn’t have the map” and then hit record to see what happens. We would have come up with this idea while en route to the destination. The laughter at the end of that beat is us genuinely laughing, and I’m so glad Chris kept moments like that in the edit, as I think it really adds to the charm of these characters. Other times, like “Alexandra holds many a fond memory for Archie MacDonald….”, the beat would be completely made up on the spot, as we attempted to catch the other of us unawares, just to see what would happen. When Dave mentions Alexandra as Trevor, I had no idea – and I suppose that he didn’t either – of where that would lead us.

The story about Archie’s father being a bus driver, and driving his pregnant sister to the hospital, is based on a story from my Dad’s life, but obviously exaggerated for effect and full of misinformation. I love that impossible and incorrect ideas like “drove from Georgetown to Charlottetown ten to fifteen times a day” just goes unchecked and taken as a statement of fact. We’re definitely not in CBC journalist territory here.

I was thrilled when I heard the final product, after Chris put it all together. I thought the bluegrass music really added to the energy and feel of what we were doing, and the sfx of the car having trouble starting at the beginning was the perfect lead-in joke to what the audience was about to experience.

We were all pleased, I’m sure, with what we created. And looked forward to what would come next.

02. Owen Connolly Building

Island Roads – Episode Two – Owen Connolly Building

It didn’t take us long to go from the silliness of Episode One to the absurd. For episode two, we decided to visit the bust of Owen Connolly on the top of his eponymous building in Old Charlottetown. And, oh yeah, Trevor would channel the ghost of Mr. Connolly. You know, typical CBC stuff.

An early moment I love in this episode and in this series is when Trevor is commenting on Owen Connolly and the building we’ll be visiting. All I can manage in this improvisation is to repeat a couple of the words Trevor has already said. “Owen Connolly…” and “Owen Connolly building…” You can just barely hear a laugh from me after that. And that laugh is me realizing just how lame my participation in this beat is, having left all the work to David’s Trevor. I really was just along for the ride for a lot of this, just hoping to add my oddball sensibilities to the product, and hoping I wouldn’t get found out. In that laugh, I can also hear me simultaneously realizing that my lack of participation kind of works in terms of the dynamic between Trevor and Archie. So where you may not even take notice of that laugh, to me, it represents me learning a little bit more about who Archie is, and how he is very much a sidekick in this whole operation. A valuable insight for me, at the time, hearing it back. And kudos to Chris, again, for keeping in little nothing moments, like the barely audible “my door’s locked” as we sign off from inside the car. Little moments like that just add so much to the world and character of the show.

Another thing I love about these episodes in hindsight is that they contain little moments of quite specific 1991 history. For instance, “that guy looks just like Kenny Rogers” came about, no doubt, because as we were driving down Queen Street, we actually saw that guy who looks like Kenny Rogers. Does anyone remember that guy? Did anyone else other than us at the time even think that guy looked like Kenny Rogers? I don’ know. But I love that we included the mention of him.

Early on, we tried to record as much as we could “on location”, so most of the stuff you hear in the car was actually recorded as we drove towards our destination. Obviously, for this episode, we didn’t actually go to the roof of the Owen Connolly building (sorry for ruining that illusion for you!). For that portion, we parked down by the ball diamonds at Victoria Park and ran around the parking lot a bit so we’d sound a bit out of wind. I’m sure Chris, throughout the run of the series, had challenges in the edit trying to make some of our scenes sound cohesive and blended.

“I’ll just visually explain what I’m seeing”. Is that Archie showing his inarticulate inability to communicate, or is it me? I’ll never tell. But I will say this: I have often created characters whose lack of something-or-other is a direct result of me allowing my own lack of something-or-other to come forward. So, what I’m saying, perhaps, is that I often encourage and allow myself to channel the stupidity that’s within me. Speaking of channeling, “Can you fast forward through the meditation or something” and the “yoyoyoyoyo” is just funny stuff! As I listen to these episodes again, I take delight in seeing the development of these characters. In particular, in this episode, I take note of how naive and gullible and sincere Archie is. There was, perhaps, a lot more of me in Archie, in those ways, than I’d like to let on.

With the bust falling through the car at the end, and with the car crashing into the ditch at the end of the first episode, we stumbled onto the idea of tagging the ending of each episode with something similar. I’m pretty sure that was Chris’ input and idea.

03. Indian River Church

Island Roads – Episode Three – Indian River Church

We were so pleased with ourselves for starting this episode going through an actual drive-thru. We were eager to keep exploring what can happen in this world of Trevor and Archie and what was even permissible from a production standpoint. Trevor’s statement of Route 2 being Archie’s favourite route was another example of improvising where that was sprung on me and I had to go along with it. We worked well together.

Another relatively big eye-opening (or perhaps ear-opening) moment for naive me, was the concept that music from “real” artists could be used in these silly little things we were doing. It may seem like such a little thing, but Chris’s inclusion of Elvis’ Love Me Tender snippet as a transition piece blew my mind open a bit. Like I say, I was something of a sidekick in this whole enterprise and everything was a bit eye-opening for me.

For this episode, we actually did travel to the Indian River Church, and may have recorded some stuff there, I can’t remember and couldn’t say if any of it made it into this episode. Definitely the Route 2 and “do your Elvis” and the sideburns stuff was recorded en route. And I think my visiting the cemetery was on site. But the majority of the “in the church” stuff from this episode was recorded after the fact, in the acoustically imperfect Off Stage Theatre, if I recall correctly.

“What are you, a heathen?” “No, I’m Presbyterian” will always make me laugh, I hope.

04. Victoria-By-The-Sea

Island Roads – Episode Four – Victoria-By-The-Sea

There’s lots I love in this episode. I love us having a bit of fun at the expense of CBC Radio Drama, at the beginning of the episode. It was improvised in the moment. I love having actual guest participation from the Landmark Cafe owner Eugene Sauve and Victoria Playhouse Artistic Director Erskine Smith. And I love our failed audition.

If I recall correctly, we recorded this episode on the same day we visited Indian River Church. We didn’t tell Eugene nor Erskine that we were coming, but were so happy they were willing to play along with our nonsense. I’m not sure what we would have done if they were otherwise engaged.

One of my favourite moments of this series, and of my entire existence, is the three of us, Rob, David and Erskine, sitting at a table at The Landmark Cafe, trying to figure out the mathematics of how many performances the Victoria Playhouse has had. It is such an unnecessary and confusing diversion. I don’t know about David, but I can safely say that this was not Archie trying and failing at math. This was Rob trying and failing at math. I so very much love that it was included in the episode.

The excerpt of the play we performed for the audition was improvised, obviously, and I love how Erskine was politely dismissive of us. Believe it or not, us singing “Hooray For Hollywood” at the end is, I’m pretty sure, us trying our best to harmonize and sing well. No Triple Threats, us! And even though these characters exist in their own world and reality, I always found it hard to believe that either of them would know the lyrics or the melody to that tune.

05. Basin Head

Island Roads – Episode Five – Basin Head

So the summer of 1991 was our first at Off Stage Theatre on King Street. For that summer, David had invited a couple of his National Theatre School friends to Charlottetown to be part of our inaugural summer season. And that’s how the inestimable Rick Roberts ended up in a cameo as Stuart, Archie’s cousin from away. I think we just wanted to get Rick some of that lucrative coin we were making for each episode. Probably something like $30 per episode or close to that. For writing and performing original content for the CBC. We were ridiculously underpaid for what we were creating. Or maybe we were ridiculously overpaid. Have a listen and you decide. I’ll agree with whatever judgement you come away with.

Pretty much all of this episode was created and improvised as we drove to Basin Head from Charlottetown. I really enjoyed the new dimension a third character added to the dynamic. And Rick played an obnoxious Stuart to a T! I had a hard time keeping from laughing a number of times. You can particularly hear that when I exacerbate “Stooo-urrrrt!” at one point.

You know, with my hazy memory, I am now wondering if we did in fact travel to Basin Head? I’m pretty sure we did, but it might now be a false memory I have. I can’t imagine we would pass up an opportunity to day-trip to Basin Head on a lovely August day on Prince Edward Island. I’m pretty sure we attempted to record the actual Singing Sands but it didn’t translate to tape. So – and I do know this is factual – we recorded the sounds you hear of the Singing Sands in the CBC studio, pressing on a box of corn starch to simulate our footstomps squeaking in the sand. Again, sorry to burst that illusion for you!

Ah, the magic of radio!

06. Phantom Ship of the Northumberland Strait

Island Roads – Episode Six – Phantom Ship of the Northumberland Strait

We knew, going into this one, that this would be the final episode. Chris couldn’t find any more money to keep it going, and we were all bummed that it was the end. I still get a bit emotional when I hear Trevor and Archie in this episode talking about how much they loved doing this show. Because really, that was David and myself saying how much we loved doing this show.

This episode, I’m pretty sure, was pretty much fabricated and built in the studio. We didn’t actually travel Up West and we didn’t actually witness The Phantom Ship. For this one, we figured out a bit more of a story line before we recorded, like the contrivance of running out of film. I quite like the casual, reflective pacing at the end of this episode, and thank Chris for the extra production elements he threw into this one, from the crackling fire to the awesome segue into the Lenny Gallant song. And every time I listen to this episode (which, granted, isn’t a lot – I mean I am my biggest fan, but I don’t go crazy about it. Like, I’m not a self-stalker or anything – but) I get a lump in my throat whenever I hear Willie Nelson’s Stardust at the end of the episode. And then the improvised final tag, with the genuinely in-the-moment revelation of Newton Nash. I cherish the genuine laughs we have after that moment.

This episode was a lovely end to a lovely summer experience of creating six episodes of fun and foolishness.

07. Haunted Car Wash – Halloween Special

We just couldn’t leave well-enough alone, I guess. In late October of 1991, we attempted to recapture the magic of the summer with this half-hearted and too-contrived special Halloween edition of Island Roads. It’s a fairly weak effort, in my opinion, but it does have a few moments.

The nicest moment for me is hearing Chris Straw’s voice at the end of this one. I hadn’t listened to this episode for a long time, and I forgot Chris played a character in it. So, listening to this one just a day or two after I learned about his sudden and untimely death (which compelled me to make this post), I was so pleased to hear his voice. What a lovely experience that was, hearing him, and it brought back so many great memories.

If you’ve read, and listened, all the way to the bottom of this post, I hope you got even a fraction of the enjoyment out of these episodes that I did in creating them.

Thoughts on a Sneaky Cheats Chicken Burger

A month or two ago, Cameron mentioned to me how much he enjoyed a chicken burger.

He said, in fact, it was one of the best burgers he’s ever eaten. High praise from a guy who enjoys a great burger. He takes his burgers seriously. He’s a quality over quantity guy, for instance, when it comes to the atrociously-successful Burger Love madness that descends upon PEI every April.

But, you know, it was a chicken burger. How great could it really be? I have no scientific statistics (are there any other kind, really?) to back this up, but he belongs to a generation that is prone to extreme exaggeration to make a point. Every single one of them, far as I can tell, has no ability to gauge a median quality. Everything is either “the best ever” or “the worst possible”. That’s probably why they don’t vote.

He had it, he said, at Sneaky Cheats, a pop-up restaurant that, well, pops up here and there around Charlottetown (and the Island, I presume?). I was, of course, aware of Sneaky Cheats, because of social media I am aware of things. It’s also how I became aware of the Lobster Fetishists Group, PEI Chapter, on Facebook. But I had never tried Sneaky Cheats, nor many of the new crop of food offerings around the city, because a) I am set in my ways, and b) it’s taken me far too long to accept that I have to pay $12 for a food item that doesn’t even include a side.

So, yeah, a good chicken burger. (See, I wrote “good” – my generation is, if nothing else, attuned to always seek the median in things.) Big deal.

Here is a short explanation of my experiences with chicken burgers, just so you know where I’m coming from. I’ve eaten more Junior Chickens from McDonald’s than any other type of chicken burger. I think they’re okay. A good (see, not “great”), quick piece of heated meat to gobble into my belly, without causing me too much upset. I’ve bought and cooked a fair share of frozen breaded chicken burgers to know I do not like them very much. I mean, they are no Junior Chicken. And I have always assumed that I will likely cook my fair share of frozen breaded chicken burgers in the future and I’ve been okay with that. I’ve had – I’m going to say fewer than the number of fingers on both my hands – a few grilled chicken burger type dealies, from all the types of food places – fast, medium, and slow – and, honestly, none of them really thrilled me. None that were too memorable, most that were okay. I am not going to say they were either the best or the worst things ever, because that’s not the way my generation rolls.

So, Monday past, Cameron texts me and says Sneaky Cheats is having a pop-up above the fire-hall downtown, and they are offering a chicken burger similar to the one he dubbed the best ever, and would we like to accompany him. Catching me in a youthful mood, I agree, and we all three – Cameron, me, and Karyn – head off to the popped up Sneaky Cheats. We each order the chicken burger and an order of potato salad each. Catching me in a paternal mood, I pay. And then we go and wait for our names to be called, to come and get our food.

While we wait, Cameron cannot help but be of his generation, and goes to great lengths to describe his experience with the last Sneaky Cheats chicken burger he had. It’s a dangerous story he weaves, in that every expression of amazement in the food he utters only works to tamp down my expectations about the assumed slightly-above-good chicken burger I’m about to eat. Still, he does know good food, and so, as he went on, more and more of me was, admittedly, hoping for something special.

First surprise is this: We didn’t have to go up and get our food. The lady who takes the orders brought it to us. Second surprise is this: she also brought us an order of the kale salad, for all of us, because, she said, the chef noticed this was our first time at Sneaky Cheats. I’m not sure how he knew this. Speculation by the other two at the table was that he recognized me as an entity that sometimes gets noticed as an entity. I don’t know if that is so, but So, yeah, and yeah, that was nice!

The burger was there, in front of me. Because of Cameron’s exhortations, I was won over to his side, now brain-washed into believing this was going to be something generationally-special. The first thing I noticed was how dark and crispy the breading on the chicken looked. The whole burger looked great (I know!) and I especially liked the fact that it didn’t look like one of those Burger Love monstrosities that include all the sides on top of the burger, including soup. It looked like a burger. A chicken burger.

I did not take a picture of it. I don’t do that. I tend not to photographically document the moments, people and foods in my life very much.

I saw a part of the breading that was jutting out a bit, begging to be picked off. It was perhaps the size of a newborn baby’s baby-finger fingernail. Very small. I picked it off and put it in my mouth.

And with that baby’s fingernail of deep-fried breadcrumb, my whole world changed forever.

I can only describe it as a Big Bang sized explosion of flavour. With that one small breadcrumb entering my mouth, I am sure that whole universes have now been created in my insides. Where once there was nothing, now, somewhere inside me, there is a microscopic planet its inhabitants call Earth, and somewhere on that planet inside me there is a man of a certain generation who has yet to experience that planet’s version of a Sneaky Cheats Chicken Burger. I both pity that man for what he doesn’t know, and am envious for the enjoyment of that life-changing experience hopefully still to come for him.

I forget what philosopher said “For it is the entirety of human existence that is contained within one tiny morsel of breaded chicken burger that awaits those who choose to see it”, but I now know what he was getting at.

Words cannot do justice to just how damn great that small crumb was. Not even poetical words like “ere” or “forsooth” or “wheelbarrow” can approach.

I was instantly a changed man, I knew that. An eternity of happiness experienced in that crumb. I will always have that. I will. However, just as instantly, I became aware of a tragic truth: from that pinnacle of pleasure I experienced, every moment afterwards would only mean I am that moment farther from it. I suddenly understood just how cruel the dissipation of pleasure can be. Already, micro-seconds after that initial flavour burst, I had already forgotten what that experience was like. I knew I would never get that moment back. And, therefore, I could never be truly, ultimately, happy again.

Not even with an almost complete Sneaky Cheats Chicken Burger sitting in front of me, would I experience the utopia of taste – what copywriters from any generation might call a “tastetopia” – that I had just experienced. With the burger in front of me, I knew I would come close, but I also knew that close might as well be universes of taste away. What copywriters might call “tastieverses” away. I became aware at a quantum level, that I was dealing in instantaneous half-lives of taste – whatever the smallest intervals of time that exist, between each instance the memory of the exquisiteness of that initial taste was being halved. I would never get it back.

I had to think. I spent maybe 30 seconds, just staring at the table in front of me. Part of me was still enjoying – oh, how I was enjoying – the flavour. I concentrated so hard on experiencing that enjoyment, half-lifing as it was away from memory, moment to moment. Part of me was in a sort of ecstasy of anticipation at the wonderful flavours and experiences I was about to engage with. And yet, part of me, was in mourning. And it was this mourning that I was afraid would take over.

Then, a wonderful thing happened. Perhaps, in those 30 seconds or so, I motored through all the stages of grief. I can’t say for sure what it was, but I am thankful, beyond thankful, that it happened. What did happen was this:

I accepted it.

I accepted that I would never get to that place again. Once accepted, I became fine with it. I came to understand peace.

It was only then that I dared to look at the Sneaky Cheats Chicken Burger again. A calmness washed over me, and joy took over. Not the ultimate joy, I understood, but a wondrous joy nonetheless. The joy was this: I had, but for that perfect baby fingernail sized crumb, an entire chicken burger that I knew I as going to enjoy so very much.

And so, I dug in. Bite after bite, the tsunami-sized waves of pleasure washed over me. Even as I came to the last few bites, knowing this all was soon to end, and that memories would not do it justice, I was able to experience nothing but this amazing chicken burger.

It was life-changing, it was that good. It allowed me to discover Absolute Truths. I will forever be indebted to that first Sneaky Cheats Chicken Burger for what it gave me.

After I was done, and after I finished the potato salad, which was also amazing – more like mashed potatoes than potato salad – and my portion of the kale salad, which was also terrific, I sat there contemplating things.

One thing I contemplated is one of which I am not proud. I noticed that Cameron had, smartly, left a final, bite-sized portion of chicken burger to finish with. As I pondered my empty dish, my contentedness, my peace with never again experiencing perfection… I looked at Cameron’s last bite of chicken burger, I looked at Cameron, then back to the burger, and realized, without doubt, that I would kill him just to take that final piece.

But I didn’t kill him. What happened instead, I think, is that the little man on the little Earth in the little universe that was just created inside me, finished his Sneaky Cheats Chicken Burger, and HE killed the little Cameron that was sitting with him. I don’t know what happened to the little Karyn, but I hope she’s doing well.

So, what I’m saying, I guess, is: I liked the Sneaky Cheats Chicken Burger. It was good.

Rob Reviews Realizations. Again.

The newly-formed Screaming Beaver Productions has remounted the 2018 Island Fringe Festival hit, Realizations, written by Kandace Hagen, and once again directed by Rory Starkman. You can read my review of that production here.

I saw the second of five performances scheduled for this remount, playing at, and presented by, The Guild. The final three performances take place this coming Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, and I whole-heartedly recommend you go see this challenging, affecting, and effective play.

Many of the plethora of plaudits and few issues I wrote about of the original production still stand. The script is tight, smart and engaging. The male characters, except Marcus, are still too much used simply as unredeeming plot devices and are not fleshed-out in any interesting way. (This may be on purpose, and if so, fine. But I think it’s a mistake to ignore them as actual, dimensional, characters) The acting, for the most part, is quite good, but perhaps not quite as crisp overall as in the original production. (It is hard not to compare the two productions and that production was magic) As a play, it moves along at a great pace and easily holds one’s attention. But the real triumph, in a play full of triumphant elements, is the use of the space and set pieces.

The entire width of The Guild stage is used quite effectively. (although when sitting on the theatre-entrance side of the audience, it was a bit hard to hear what was being said in the bedroom set, all the way across the room. But this is a matter of actor vocal projection, perhaps, and only troublesome at the very top of the play) The main part of the stage was empty, except for a dozen or so two-foot by two-foot (I’m guessing) black boxes. They were constantly being moved and arranged and manipulated by the entire cast between scenes, to create a multitude of different locations and atmospheres. It was no doubt a challenge of choreography, but very much worth it as it proved very, very effective. Only a couple of times did I find it a little bit intrusive to the action happening elsewhere on stage, and maybe a couple more where I wondered what was the point of that last boxy beehive of commotion.

This play deserves to play to full houses. As with the original production (which did play to full, albeit smaller, houses), I wonder if its publicity makes people trepidatious about wanting to see it. Frankly, the publicity for the show isn’t very inviting, and reads more like a university thesis dissertation topic. I understand the desire to warn and prepare people for what they are getting into if they see it, but you also want seats filled. There is undeniable humanity and heart and passion breathed into every moment of this play, but none of that warmth is evident in the publicity. It’d be a shame if people didn’t see it because they were wary of how it is promoted.

The long and the short of it is, despite any of my petty criticisms, Realizations is really good, and everyone involved should be so very proud of this production. It is so very much worth your time, so please go see it, and support locally-created, independent theatre.

A History of OffStage Theatre

From 1991 to 1995, OffStage Theatre was a bare-bones, smaller-than-small independent theatre company in Charlottetown. Its King (and Fool) was David Moses. I was his Number One, I guess, and learned a whole heck of a lot during this time. Most all of it from David. Others named in this history more or less came and went, but it was mostly David and me who ended up sweeping the floors the most. Whatever I have become in Charlottetown’s theatre scene, it was borne out of these years. I am eternally grateful to have had the experience.

For awhile, Off Stage had a nice head of steam going, but steam doesn’t pay the bills. A constantly leaking roof in our first home became more and more of an issue, as did malfunctioning theatre equipment, a total lack of storage and no dressing rooms to speak of; it all conspired to drag us down. Fortunately, we had to energy of youth and the passion of artists, and through both were able to ignore the obvious glaring financial discrepancies involved in paying rent with four-dollar ticket prices.

It was exciting, trying to live up to the company’s mandate of creating and producing original works of theatre. I am proud of everything we created. It was awesome, too, to bring in other theatre artists from across the Island and Canada, like Andy Jones of Codco, and see their processes.

Energy and enthusiasm is wonderful, but working at it for less than no money isn’t feasible, and that takes its toll eventually. It was a great run. And I’m still trying to make bank on some of the things we ended up creating.

Here, then, is a just-the-facts-ma’am history of OffStage Theatre. Personal remembrances and anecdotes are likely to follow. But for now, just the cold, unemotional dates and details.

The Pre-History of Off-Stage Theatre


The seeds likely were sown a few years before 1989, as many of the principles got to know each other through the UPEI Theatre Society in the mid-1980s.

But it was 1989 when it started. During that summer, feeling the need to develop their theatre skills, Rob MacDonald, Linda Wigmore, Donna Wigmore, Peter Ewart, Dianne Campbell, Nancy McLure, and Jane Wells approached David Moses to teach acting classes. David was a theatre-guy, a good friend, mentor, and had directed theatre and taught acting before. He was, at the time, on summer break from the National Theatre School of Canada, where he was studying direction and acting. David agreed.

When David returned to school in Montreal in the fall, many of the people in the acting class maintained their interest in theatre by writing, performing, and directing plays around Charlottetown.


In April, after leaving the National Theatre School and returning to Charlottetown, David contacted members of the original acting class, and other interested individuals, expressing an interest in forming a theatre company that would produce original plays and develop the skills of the company members. The focus would be on process as well as product. All involved agreed this is good, a name was agreed upon, and in April 1990, in a small apartment on Queen Street, OffStage Theatre was born.

Billy & Biff vs. Dracula, by Nick Grant

In true independent theatre style, through various fund-raisers and flea markets, OffStage raised a whopping $500 for their first production, Billy & Biff vs. Dracula.

The play, by PEI writer Nick Grant (living in Montreal at the time), was work-shopped over the telephone and through the mail. The original script, gender-blind casting (in the role of Dracula), and unusual sets made for an exciting first production.

It was presented to the public for three nights in August 1990 at the Duffy Amphitheatre, UPEI. OffStage Theatre was off and running.

The people involved in OffStage Theatre’s first production
A Review of Billy & Biff vs. Dracula. Let’s call it “mixed”.

In the fall of 1990, OffStage Theatre was commissioned by the Festival of the Arts committee to produce an original new play for children for the Fall Festival.

The Pied-Piper of Hamelin

OffStage created and performed their version of the fairytale classic The Pied Piper of Hamelin.

As would become common for most original OffStage productions, “Piper” was created by the actors and director during rehearsals. The actual writing of the script was done by David Moses and Rob MacDonald after each rehearsal.

Piper was well-received by audiences.

After “Piper”, OffStage was successfully incorporated as a non-profit company. The hope was this would help with funding, grants and sponsorships, etc.

Late in 1990, OffStage Theatre Company moved into a 2nd-floor studio and office space it shared with the Charlottetown Ballet Theatre, 134 Richmond Street.


Children’s Theatre Series

OffStage was awarded a grant from the PEI Council of the Arts, to produce a series of three plays for children. From November 1990 to January 1991, the Company produced revised versions of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, The Three Little Pigs, and created a new play, The Clown Show. The overwhelming response from day-cares and kindergartens (children and adults) showed a sincere need for such productions for young Islanders.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin (Redux)

Whereas the original Off Stage PIPER was darker, scarier, and moodier, this revised version of the play was totally re-written by David Moses and Rob MacDonald, and concentrated more on slap-stick and farcical comedy.

Puppet rat (barely visible) attempts to steal Baker’s (Rob MacDonald) cupcake
Baker (Rob MacDonald) complains to the Burgermeister (Donna Wigmore) about the rat problem.
The Tailor (Dianne Campbell) has her own rat problems
It’s up to the Pied Piper (David Moses) to get rid of the rats
Actors talking to the kids after the show

The Three Little Pigs

The Three Little Pigs remained truer to its original incarnation, which was written by Moses and MacDonald in 1989 for the West Prince Arts Council for summer performances at Mill River Park. It was revised and updated to make it longer, and new songs were added.

Roddy Weatherbie, David Moses, Rob MacDonald and Mark Stevenson (as wolf)

The Clown Show

Roddy Weatherbie, Rob MacDonald, Linda Wigmore, Dianne Campbell and Peter Ewart

The Clown Show was a series of sketches created mostly by the actors improvisational work in rehearsals. Again Moses and MacDonald worked together to complete a final script.

A lovely review of one of OffStage Theatre’s clown shows

The Kelly Murder

In the Spring of 1991, OffStage Theatre produced The Kelly Murder, a docu-drama concerning the murder of a black youth in Charlottetown in the late 1800s. Written by Artistic Director David Moses, the play was cast with 28 actors, professional and amateur, from across the Island. It played to sold-out houses at The MacKenzie Theatre, and won a PEI Heritage Award.

Another Clown Show

Peter Ewart, David Moses, Dianne Campbell, Rob MacDonald, Jeana MacIsaac, Linda Wigmore

OffStage Theatre was asked to present their Clown Show for a Confederation Centre fund-raising fair. Rather than present the same play they already produced, OffStage created an almost entirely all-new show. This new show also received overwhelming support by all who saw it.

David Moses and Linda Wigmore clowning around
Peter Ewart and Rob MacDonald
Jeana MacIsaac getting hugs and Dianne Campbell watching on
Rob MacDonald entertaining some audience members

First Summer Season

In the spring of 1991, while sharing a second-floor loft office on Richmond Street, OffStage began rehearsals for its first full summer season. The PEI Council of the Arts awarded a grant of $3600 for the project. And The Canada Council Explorations Program awarded $12,000. Most of this money would go towards construction and renovation of their new theatre space in the old Seaman’s Building on King Street (where City Cinema currently resides).

David Moses invited National Theatre School friends, actors Rick Roberts and Marjorie Campbell, along with actor/puppeteer Mike Peterson to be part of the summer’s cast.

Delays in renovations caused a delay in their planned opening date. However, on July 19, 1991, OffStage Theatre Company premiered its first summer season productions.

The Kelly Murder (Redux)

The Kelly Murder was reworked, and remounted with a cast of six actors playing 40 characters.

The Entertainers

The Entertainers, an experimental piece written by Rick Roberts, starring David Moses and the puppetry of Mike Peterson, played at lunchtimes.

Man (David Moses) and Dog (Mike Peterson)


As planned, these shows were replaced in August by Annekenstein, created by Rob MacDonald, written by Rob MacDonald and the cast.

The Prompter

The Prompter, written by David Moses, starring Mae Ames and Marjorie Campbell, was presented during lunchtime.

The overall response to OffStage Theatre’s first summer season was very positive, and the comedy revue Annekenstein was declared the show of the summer.

American Tourist kids (Mike Peterson and Marjorie Campbell)
American Tourists Harold and Gloria (David Moses and Rob MacDonald)
A blurry box office agent (Rick Roberts) gets a kiss from Gloria (Rob MacDonald)

Once word got out that a play was being produced that made fun of the Island-icon Anne of Green Gables, the shows sold-out and continued to do so for the remainder of its three week run.

Big laughs coming from the audience

Thrilled by the appeal of Annekenstein, the company was also proud that all the shows presented that summer were original works, all positively appreciated, and three of the four were created by Island playwrights.

Stage Manager Donna Martin working in OffStage Theatre’s high-tech tech booth
Rob MacDonald writing the funny in the OffStage Theatre office/dressing room

In order to be able to put on their first productions in their new home, invaluable assistance and support was provided by the Confederation Centre Theatre Department, Theatre PEI, Colonel Grey High School, and in particular Errol Robertson, Rick Warren, Ron Irving and Paul Druet. These organizations and individuals donated equipment, expertise, set pieces and moral support.

In the fall, Off Stage offered its first semester of Acting Classes.

Off Stage was asked to create a humorous show about AIDS and AIDS Awareness for the PEI Dept. of Health and Social Services. Despite the heavy subject matter, Rob MacDonald and David Moses wrote a script based on rehearsal improvisations, and it was performed as part of an AIDS Symposium. The audience was appreciative and welcomed a lighter take on the issue.

Off Stage hosted a three day workshop in Clown work. The workshop was led by nationally acclaimed clown teacher, Leah Cherniak, from Theatre Colombus in Toronto.

Off Stage hosted workshops in Theatre Improvisation which led to weekly presentations of Theatre Sports. These would continue throughout the winter.

As winter began, plans to mount another season of children’s plays proved unsuccessful due to insufficient funding. Off Stage was able to present two new clown shows developed out of the workshop given in the fall. One show toured Island Schools in all three counties. The other, A Clown’s Christmas was presented at OffStage Theatre during the holidays. A short film, THE FALL, was also produced, made through the Island Media Arts Co-op based on a sketch developed during this period.


Theatre Sports Improv

Theatre Sports continued every Friday night.

As a co-production with the UPEI Theatre Society, Off Stage Theatre and UPEI student cast-members created an original production entitled Life On Earth.

Island Smoke

Off Stage presented a Theatre Bandwagon production of Island Smoke, written by Greg Dunham.

Annekenstein II and Island Smoke (Redux)

On July 1, 1992 Off Stage Theatre commenced its second season of summer productions in its theatre in Old Charlottetown. Rehearsals for the two plays Annekenstein II and a remount of Island Smoke began June 1st with a company of seven actors and a stage manager/technician.

A $10,000 grant for the summer season came from the Canada Council Explorations Program. Off Stage Theatre also received $5,000 from the PEI Council of the Arts.

Darrin McCloskey, David Moses, Nancy McLure, Mark Stevenson, Rob MacDonald

Both plays were well- received by those who attend. Annekenstein II, which has an almost entirely new script, is especially popular, selling out regularly during its six week run.

Lucy Maud Montgomery (Nancy McLure) has no time for husband Ewan (Mark Stevenson)
Darrin McCloskey as Gus of Green Gables
The Annekenstein Monster (Rob MacDonald) towers over Mimsi Hashfield (David Moses)
Some of the lowest-budget costumes and props you’ll ever see

The Bog Hoppers

The Bog Hoppers, with their concerts of tradition maritime music, made a welcome addition to the Off Stage summer line-up.

Late Night at Off Stage

Off Stage also initiated a series of “Late Night” One Person Performances: Andy Jones in Easy Pieces,, John Taylor in My Three Dads, and Clair Coulter in Wallace Shawn’s The Fever. This was thought to be an important step for the company in establishing connections with performers from across the country in an effort to excel in and experience a variety of theatrical forms.

A discouraging note regarding advertising– OffStage Theatre felt obliged to pull their newspaper advertising from the Guardian/Patriot after the first month to protest the paper’s neglect in sending a reviewer to OffStage shows. Other theatre companies were given prompt reviews at the start of their seasons but OffStage was not. After repeated requests were refused, OffStage cancelled their ads. Ironically, Toronto’s Globe and Mail reviewed Annekenstein II, shortly after which the Guardian finally did send a reporter.

The Guardian finally reviews Annekenstein II

In the fall, Off Stage was contracted to produce a play about teenage women and substance abuse. Over a dozen young women participated and the show toured many island junior high schools.

Off Stage second semester of acting class began.

Dracula Lives

As the first production of its first full winter season, Off Stage produced Dracula Lives, a new play by Nick Grant who, appropriately enough, wrote the first play Off Stage ever produced.

Dracula (Peter Locke) confronts Betty (Kelly O’Brien) in Dracula Lives!
Biff (Ed Rashed) keeps the cop (Doug Huskilson) at bay
Billy (Rob MacDonald) takes a swing at the cop (Doug Huskilson)

A Man Looking Out The Window

Off Stage Presented Greg Dunham’s one man show, A Man Looking Out The Window.

Land of the Midnight Sunshine Sketches

Off Stage Presented Hank Stinson’s one man show, Land of the Midnight Sun Sketches.

Les Belles Soeurs

Off Stage produced Les Belles Soeurs, cast with twelve island actresses.


Off Stage produced B-Movie, by Tom Wood.

Children’s Theatre Season

Off Stage Produced a series of three plays for young audiences: The Paperbag Princess, The Reluctant Dragon and Jack and the Beanstalk.


Arms and the Man

Off Stage presented, a Pleasant Productions production of Bernard Shaw’s, Arms and The Man.


Off Stage produced Sally Clark’s Moo.

Fun While It Lasted

In March 1992, due to insufficient funding, a leaking building, a growing debt, Off Stage began preparations to move out of 64 King Street. Fun While It Lasted, an original revue, was the last show produced at that location.

OffStage Theatre and Annekenstein is featured in an article on Anne of Green Gables in Air Canada’s in-fight magazine En Route.

In April, Off Stage found a new home at 203 Fitzroy Street. Renovations and preparations began.

May saw Off Stage hosting Theatre PEI’s New Voices Play writing Workshop and performing an Evening of Improvisation for the Professional Secretary’s Institute.

Annekenstein 3

Off Stage produced the third summer season of Annekenstein, running June to September

It was the only play they produced that summer. As like previous years’ productions, this one continued to grow in popularity as the summer run continued, and was often sold out for the last weeks of performance.

Horatio, by Sean McQuaid

In October and November, Off Stage, in co-production with Theatre PEI, presented Horatio, by Sean McQuaid. This sequel to Hamlet was a winner of the previous spring’s New Voices Playwriting Contest. With a large cast, this was Off Stage’s grandest production since the original The Kelly Murder, and was a critical and popular success.


The Good, The Bad, and the Sugar Coated Peanut Butter Shredded Wheat Balls


Off Stage’s Fitzroy Street location had its final production, The Good, The Bad, and The Sugar Coated, Peanut Butter Shredded Wheat Balls, written by Rob MacDonald. This children’s play was performed for a small number of daycare children, and the public was invited to a workshop production, to which a small number attended.


Off Stage left Fitzroy Street to no-fixed-address. The fate of the company was in doubt. Plans were to find a space for the summer, and to produce another season of Annekenstein.


Off Stage managed to secure the Carriage House at the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation, 2 Kent Street. Rehearsals and slight renovations began immediately.

Annekenstein IV

The fourth season of Annekenstein was presented, July to September. Shows sold well all summer long and Off Stage declared the season a success. With the Museum Foundation pleased with their take on the box office, Off Stage and the Foundation made plans for another run the following summer.

David Moses, Rob MacDonald, Ed Rashed, Nancy McLure, Laurie Murphy


In February, plans to produce a fifth season of Annekenstein fell apart when the Museum Foundation pulled out of the agreement after surrounding neighbors of the Carriage House voiced concerns and complaints about the Foundation using the Carriage House as a place of business in a residential area. Off Stage was again homeless with no future productions in sight.

In May, the CP Prince Edward Hotel, lower Queen Street, offered Off Stage a deal to perform Annekenstein in the Auriga Room of the hotel. Off Stage accepted.

Rehearsals and renovations get underway in June for Annekenstein V: The Best of Annekenstein.

Annekenstein V: The Best of Annekenstein

Laurie Murphy, Rob MacDonald, Jan Rudd, Nancy McLure, Matt Rainnie, Ed Rashed;
Directed by David Moses

From July to September, four nights a week, Off Stage presented Annekenstein V to great response from the public. Shows average 75% capacity of the 100 seat room for the entire season, with many nights at standing room only. Financially, Off Stage had its greatest success.

As Annekenstein continued to make a name for itself that even began to reach outside of PEI, the production was featured on an episode of CBC Television’s On The Road Again with Wayne Rostad.

After a mutually successful season, tentative plans were made with the CP Hotel to perform another Annekenstein for the summer of 1996. It soon became apparent that these plans wouldn’t come through, as the hotel underwent structural renovations which left them without a venue to offer Off Stage.

In November, once again homeless, and with the fact that the company had become a one play, one season company, and was no longer following its mandate, and with no one with a strong enough desire to take over the management, Off Stage resigned its status as a non-profit, charitable organization, and for all intents and purposes was no longer a company.

Off Stage Theatre Company ceased to produce theatre under its name.


Annekenstein Six

Despite the dissolution of OffStage Theatre, Dave & Rob managed to secure the bar Myron’s as a venue for a 6th summer run of Annekenstein, to run June to August.  Despite being, basically, theatre in a bar, it performs quite well.


Annekenstein 7

Annekenstein’s 7th summer season returned to Myron’s, from June to August, six nights a week.  Once again, a combination of brand new material and classic Annekenstein favourites worked well and shows sold well.

Six nights a week!!!

And, there you have it! A history of OffStage Theatre Company. Do you have any memories of OffStage Theatre? Any plays or performances or music you saw there that stuck with you? I’d love to hear your memories.