Opera, ballet, lakeside walk, drawing art exhibition – no, you’re not in some artistic nucleus in Europe, you’re in Coquitlam at the Evergreen Cultural Centre. In my case, to see DragonDiva’s production of The Old Maid and the Thief which was nostalgic, refreshing, and charming all in the same breath. But we’ll get to that soon. First off let me introduce you to the Evergreen Cultural Centre: Coquitlam’s arts and culture heart. Now I live in Coquitlam (there, I said it), and let the Evergreen be a testament to you that Coquitlam is more than rows of colour regulated homes and big box stores that are ‘conveniently’ located within a 20-minute drive of each other; just in case you thought you could walk.
Let me take a minute to, well, excuse my cheekiness – shatter stereotypical perceptions of what is in Suburbia. Evergreen is different; this is a place where you want to show up early for a show. After being greeted warmly at the box office, I wandered into the art gallery. It’s certainly not massive, but the exhibit: Drawing: Expanded Medium, packed enough visuals and contemporary themes that left me lost in thought for the next few days to come. With work by eight separate artists, the premise was to display pieces that “challenge preconceived notions of what drawing can be, how we can interpret it and how we interact with it.” Drawing, typically thought of as a traditional artistic medium, is featured as something more contemporary, innovative and a constantly evolving art form. The themes, uniqueness and modern look of the gallery were a delightful surprise – I suspect only good things for the future of Evergreen’s gallery.
If you’re anything like me, all good things involve coffee. Already feeling a charming, homey atmosphere to Evergreen, I am given my coffee in a ceramic mug, and to top it off? A tiffany blue ceramic mug, and yes, I realize I’m a sucker for pretty things. There are tables scattered around for a café like feeling, or you can walk out onto the patio and sit by the lake. Really, who needs a cabin at this point? The centre is located in a beautiful spot in Coquitlam that is only enhanced by the buzz of community and hospitality all around.
Now, as fascinated as you may be by my coffee drinking excursions, I must divert to The Old Maid and the Thief and the event Evergreen has so aptly dubbed: Opera on the Lake.
History debrief: The Old Maid and the Thief, written by Gian Carlo Menotti, was originally aired on NBC radio in 1939. This reenactment not only recreates the opera, it recreates the culture of radio entertainment. The 90-minute performance takes place entirely in an intimate living room and invites you not only into the cozy atmosphere, but to watch what happens on the other end of a radio broadcast. Those singing come to the microphones at the front while those ‘not performing’ chat and occupy themselves.
The show begins with introducing Grace, Grace and…..Grace; the lovely trio that will be singing, intermittently, jingles that were once authentic radio commercial breaks. This is only the beginning of the charm and quirkiness that characterizes this production. After the audience were warmed up with some nostalgic jingles –that are catchy to the young and nostalgic to older generations – the characters mill about in the living room and then the story begins with an introduction by the radio announcer in a voice that would convince you to buy any car.
Miss Todd, victim of a dry love life and perpetual busy-bodiness, is the old maid – her only companionship is her housemaid Laetitia and the other town gossip, Miss Pinkerton. The two Misses play off each other with such a wonderful dynamic that you can’t help but be thankful you don’t have a town gossip in your own life (my condolences if you do). Then there is a knock at the door. In theory it comes from the door but since it is a radio broadcast it comes from a man sitting at a table with props to make different sound effects. Need an owl in the middle of the night? Henry the sound guy (as he is named in the program) can do that. Knock at the door? Henry bangs on a book. The nostalgia this creates is delightful and carries lightheartedness throughout the show that is captivating. Now, back to the handsome gentleman who has suddenly appeared at Miss Todd’s door, or, in the case of this show has gotten up from his chair and walked up to the microphone. Laetitia, enamored by his good looks, begs of Miss Todd to let him stay.
Thus begins the drama, with Miss Pinkerton of course. Barging into Miss Todd’s home, as she does, Miss Pinkerton proceeds to tell Miss Todd there is a thief in the neighborhood that conveniently fits the description of the wanderer man she just took under her roof. Miss Todd’s worry rises but Laetitia, convinced that the wanderer loves her, persuades Miss Todd to let him stay. Amidst all of this the wanderer is, well, a wanderer, and feels trapped staying in a home and wants to leave. Laetitia, as any love struck girl would, coaxes him to stay by asking what he would like, “a drink” he replies. Simple enough, right? Not when Miss Todd is an advocate for the prohibition, which results in a logical decision to break into the liquor store at night in order to protect her image. The show, a comedy of errors, spirals into a series of misunderstandings and a lighthearted love story.
The show in its entirety is creative and endearing and destroys any immediate conceptions one may have of the term ‘opera’ (you know, the ones of barreling ladies and ear piercing octaves). The atmosphere allows the audience to feel like they are sitting in the stage’s living room, and the acting that goes on ‘off-air’ is so natural you wish you could hear what they were saying. The show is accompanied by the piano, flute and clarinet, and the music is seamless. And honestly, who doesn’t enjoy commercial breaks that involve a jingle with a man dressed in a banana playing the maracas? The show is silly in the most endearing of ways, intimate and perfectly staged and acted. It captures the excitement of radio broadcasting that I imagine my parents felt when ‘their show’ was on air and made me want to have a broadcast on an old style radio to call my own.
The Old Maid and the Thief is a show that will satisfy any age group as it brings the older generation back to their childhood memories and introduces something new to the younger generation. Also, the entire feel of the opera is only enhanced by the coziness of Evergreen Centre. Although this production was only on for two nights, the Evergreen has a great line up of shows, music and dance events coming up. I definitely recommend checking out their schedule and going over, grabbing coffee, drinking it by the lake and seeing what Coquitlam is actually all about.