The Charnel House Trilogy

I recently Played the Charnel House Trilogy. Its a really well done Horror Adventure game. It stars a young woman named Alex Davenport who’s just broken up with her boyfriend and older professor, named Harold Lang who both take a ride on a train that is not all that it seems. The best part of the game is without a doubt the writing, Most of the characters feel quite real which makes the parts were the supernatural horrors begin influencing them all the more creepy. It also makes the more obviously supernatural characters stand out. Further both of the main characters (particularly Alex) really make you care about them, so that once everything starts getting worst you are invested in what happens to them.

The overall voice acting is very good. Everyone sounds very natural and when they don’t theirs a very good reason. The closest thing to a criticism I’ll give is that Alex’s Voice actress doesn’t sound panicked enough in some of the later scenes, but then Alex is meant to be more calm under pressure then one would expect. Jim Stirling is also present and though he is very good the recognizably of his voice could be distracting to some.

I should note that the game is not for the faint of heart. It deals with themes of stalking and suicide. It also gets extremely intense in the final part. Personally I found this all to be to the games benefit but I could see why it wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. Despite the fact that it has an old school adventure game feel both in content and graphics I found it to be one of the scariest games I’ve played.

The only real criticisms I have for the game is that the first part of the game can drag for a while. I think that this sequence does a great job of introducing Alex and sets the mood, but it is not as interesting as the other parts. The other major problem is that this game was clearly meant to have a sequel and that sequel sadly never materialized. However the game is still good for what it is.

The Charnel House Trilogy is currently available on steam for $1.62.

Harassment, accessibility, and cyberbullying

Online harassment is an issue that affects women’s ability to safely access and use social media. Many women have been outright driven away from social media by armies of harassers. This issue would already be serious if social media was being used in a relatively casual way, after all women should be entitled to interact online just as much as men, but as social media becomes a bigger and bigger part of people’s lives it becomes more and more difficult to function without the use of social media. Many jobs require some degree of a social media presence. Because of this many women are in a difficult position, where online misogynists make going online incredibly difficult while at the same time not going online limits their opportunities.

One social media platform that has become a hotbed for harassment is twitter. Due to the openness of twitter, trolls are able to deliberately set up harassment campaigns against specific individuals. These campaigns are often done in a very subtle way, for example a popular anti-feminist, such as Milo Yiannopoulis, Thunderf00t, or Vox Day, will begin arguing with a feminist’s posts in order to draw their fans attention to these individuals. Their own interaction may or may not qualify as harassment itself. For example, Milo Yiannopoulis directly engaged in harassment towards his targets whereas Thunderf00t tends to go out of his way to avoid explicitly calling for harassment. A recent trend for organizing these campaigns in the neo-Nazi community is to find someone who either is Jewish or whose last name at least sounds Jewish and to put their last name in triple parenthesis. The other neo-Nazi’s will see this and they will all target the same individual.

This affects women in a number of ways. Of course, there is already the emotional fallout of having a large group of strangers sending them abuse and rape threats. A lot of this serves as a silencing tactic. The women are unable to voice their own opinions for fear of what will happen if they speak out. The anti-feminist Jack Barnes has admitted that this is his deliberate goal in targeting women. http://www.wehuntedthemammoth.com/2016/01/19/jack-barnes-mra-feminists-need-to-learn-to-fear-retribution-from-us/

Some women have felt forced to quit social media entirely because of this. Obviously even on the surface this is terrible, but it goes deeper. Social media has become a huge part of life and is more and more necessary for day to day life. Many women don’t have a choice when it comes to whether to use social media or not. This is especially apparent when one considers that some trolls find their targets’ email addresses and go out of their way to send harassing e-mails. Some companies do the majority of their pre-interview applications through e-mail, so these women have to sort through vulgar and threating e-mails in order to find employment. Further, there are some jobs that are done primarily or entirely online, but given the nature of many online communities these jobs are less accessible to women. For  example of online e Ellen Pao was the CEO of the online forum Reddit. After some unpopular actions from her, both because of the dismissal of a popular moderator being misattributed to her and her attempts to clamp down on some of the harassment going on in the site, the community turned on her. The forum was filled with racist memes relating to her calling her “Chairman Pao.” They attempted to get her personnel information and sent her and her colleagues death threats. Eventually Pao resigned. This shows just how powerful a tool harassment has become in the hands of misogynists and racists. Normally it would seem rather odd to describe a silicon valley CEO as not being in a position of power, but due to her gender and her race she was targeted and eventually the harassers got what they wanted when she stepped down.

Really all of this can be boiled down to issues of accessibility. Women are often unable to access social media in the same way as men do. Where most men can make a post about their opinions as a matter of course, many women have to be exceedingly cautious about what they say if they want to avoid being dogpiled by trolls. When these men look through their e-mails, they don’t have to filter through hundreds of threating e-mails. And finally, if these men take on a job that has a heavy social media component they don’t have to worry about bitter trolls doing everything in their power to make their jobs as miserable as possible. Harassment has not only made social media inaccessible to women, but inaccessible to women who need it. By targeting these women on social media, the trolls are able to target them in all aspects of their lives.

Sal Capone: The Lamentable Tragedy Of

Sal Capone: The Lamentable Tragedy Of is many things. It is a stinging indictment towards police brutality, It is a deep look into race relations in modern day Canada, It a an ardent love letter towards rap and hip hop, it is an emotionally intense drama, But one thing that all of these parts build to is that it is one of the best shows of the year.

The play follows the rap group Sal Copone as they react to the death of there DJ in a brutal police shooting. The play is narrated by Shey Ney Ney a crossdressing prostitute. He discusses the central issues of the play in a way that is both profane and poetic. The lead character is Sal a young black man who leads the group. He is utterly shocked by what happens to Freddy, the groups DJ who was shot by the police and begins the play hiding away in his room writing. Jewel is a young woman who also raps in the group. She is aggressive angry, sarcastic and my favorite character. Chase handles the business end of the band and tries to remain in denial about the injustices that the police’s actions show. Freddy’s little sister Naimi is very young and a little naive. She worries about what her big brother is doing in the aftermath of his friend’s death.

The play deals with a lot of issues. Including: police brutality and how it intersects with racism, Canada’s reputation as an egalitarian paradise and the many ways it is unearned, sexism and homophobia. Despite covering all of this territory in a relatively short play the characters never feel like there preaching to the audience. It all sounds like what the characters would say in the situation their in.

 

Another refreshing thing about the play is that very few scenes are only dramatic or only funny. Even in scenes that are mostly fun and humorous have a tragic tinge to them and even sad scenes have a bit of humor. This is very true to life. Very often people find humor in even the most tragic of circumstances.

 

(This paragraph contains spoilers) One of the most interesting elements of the play is how it subverts the usual structure of a tragedy.  Traditionally tragedy is not really an unjust genre. The Traditional tragic Hero misbehaves because of a tragic flaw. At the end of the play because they could not overcome this flaw they are punished. In this play that is not the case. No one really has a specific tragic flaw, and in the end It is Sal, who arguably has the best balance between level headiness and justice who suffers the worst while Chase who arguably acts the worst out of all the characters and escalated the situation to this point is comparatively unscathed. There is a simple reason for this: Sal is black and Chase is white. A traditional tragedy leaves the audience feeling sad yes, but also very satisfied. This play leaves the audience angry at the status quo that allows such injustice and that is a very important feeling.

 

The acting is phenomenal. You feel like your there with the actors. Seth Whittaker is phenomenal as Sal. He perfectly captures all of the character’s emotions, his anger at his friend’s death, his guilt, his intelligence and artistic talent, and his protectiveness towards his little Sister. Leitia Brooks  is also great in the role of Sal’s little sister Naomi. She really captures both the character’s naiveté and her intelligence. The two actor’s chemistry is perfect as well. They both act like a real brother and sister. Kim Villagante is amazing in the Role of Jay. She captures the characters’ anger but also her general emotional openness and sadness at her friend’s death.Jordan Waunch  is great in the role of Chase. He brings a certain charm and wit to what is ultimately a very difficult character.  Finally, Troy Emery Twig is phenomenal in the role of Sheneyney. He captures the character’s camp mannerisms and snark but also the character’s fear about the way the authorities treat him and his kindness.

 

Overall this is a really powerful and important play and shows why we need diversity not only when it comes to the actors we cast but also the creators we promote.

Sea of Shadows by Kelly Armstroing

Kelly Armstrong’s Sea of Shadows is a very refreshing young adult fantasy featuring great characterization, a relatively unique setting, very well done romance, and an intriguing storyline.

The story has two main characters, the twin sisters Ashyn and Moria. They have been given two very important roles in their village. Ashyn is the Seeker. It is her duty to find the spirits of the dead and lay them to rest. Moria is the Keeper of the village. It is her duty to guard the village and to make sure the Empire is never overtaken. However, just as Ashyn is undertaking her duties for the first time, an army of spirits of the dammed are released and accompanied by a thief named Ronan and a mysterious member of the warrior cast named Gavril Kitsune. They flee to warn the Emperor.

The setting of the book is relatively unusual for a medieval fantasy. The Empire that all of the characters belong to has a very interesting caste system, with people of different castes not being allowed to participate in other castes’ activities. For example, no one but the warrior caste is allowed to wield a weapon, the only exception to this being the Keeper and the Seeker. The Empire itself is unusual for a young adult fantasy setting in its moral ambiguity. On one hand, it provides protection from the spirits around them and the other enemy nations while on the other hand both the system and the way it is enforced can be very harsh. For example, the twins’ mother was killed for trying to hide what they were from the government. It is also somewhat complicit in the dammed spirits existence. People who have committed crimes, including relatively minor ones like theft, are sent to the Forest of the Dammed where if they die they are likely to rise as angry spirits. If they can survive the winter they are allowed to leave, but they are just as likely to become infected by the spirits and as a result the majority of them are killed. The tensions between the various castes are also explored. For example, the area’s arrogant governor feels undermined by the two girls’ power and tries to cause them trouble early in the book.

The book is a very quick read despite being a bit longer than the average young adult novel. The earlier chapters have a lot of set up and world building, but the world and characters and setting are interesting enough to keep the reader engaged. Then as the spirits are unleashed the pace quickens considerably. The book is very difficult to put down.

The two main characters are also the viewpoint characters. The two characters are frequently split up and as a result the reader spends a great deal of time with one of them before focusing on the other. This is often done with the use of a cliff-hanger which requires the other sister’s help. This can be slightly frustrating at times, but fortunately both sisters are compelling enough that the audience is quickly pulled into the story of whoever the current viewpoint character is.

One of the greatest strengths of this story is its characters and Ashyn and Moria are two of the best. The two sisters are very different. Ashyn is in many ways very idealistic and naïve, but is also very determined empathetic. It is easy to see why she has the duty of looking after the dead souls. She is very kind and empathetic and is also the more diplomatic of the two sisters, often doing a very good job of defusing potentially dangerous situations. On the other hand, she is much less capable as a fighter than her sister, and her idealism can at times sabotage her. Moria is a little more cynical since her duties often have more to do with protecting the village and she has more often dealt with the villagers’ problems. As a result she has seen a bit more of humanity’s dark side than her sister and is more cynical. This does not mean that she is not noble or compassionate; she has both of those traits in spades. However, her solutions are often less diplomatic and also more likely to break the rules. For example, early in the story there is a very brief line of dialogue that suggests she sometimes gives her knife to abused wives so they can defend themselves. This shows that she is still very compassionate, but also has a harder edge than her gentler sister.
But the element of the storytelling that really makes them both work as main characters is the fact that neither character is shown to be wrong for being who they are. For example, there is a scene later in the book where they are talking about their respective love interests. Moria who is more interested in casual sexual relationships that won’t get in the way of her duties, says that she can’t enter a relationship with Gavril because she respects him too much. The more romantically inclined Ashyn says that respect is the most important part of a relationship. Moria tells her “you keep your notions of romance and I’ll keep mine.” Now since there is a powerful element of romance in the books it is likely that by the end of the series her opinion will have changed, but what is important here is that the narrative does not judge her for her belief. A lot of series would have one of the sisters be shown in a negative light to make the other one look better, but this story doesn’t. Both sisters are good people; they are just good people in different ways.

Two other very important characters are, of course, the love interests. I personally have read a lot of very good young adult fiction with very lacklustre romance plots. Most frequently, I have seen a lot of books that try to create a very artificial love triangle where one of the men is completely unlikable and nasty, while the other one is written to be seen as nice, but instead comes off dull and lifeless. Fortunately, Armstrong’s novel creates a much fresher romance for both of the main characters. Both of the love interests have a number of negative traits, but also are likable and in very different ways. Gavril Kitsune is a disgraced member of the warrior caste who is highly critical of Moria. He is capable of being extremely bullheaded and stubborn, but is also very honorable and noble. He and Moria slowly but surely develop mutual respect over the course of the book. Part of what makes them so compelling together is the fact that despite taking her duties very seriously Moria can appear roguish and can sometimes bend the rules in order to do the right thing, while Gavril is a very strict and rules oriented person despite the fact that he is from a disgraced family and she has what is ultimately a very respected position in the Empire. Ronan is a thief who is trying to provide for his family. He is roguish, somewhat untrustworthy and occasionally even selfish, but he is also charming, resourceful, fiercely loyal and surprisingly romantic. He is much more cynical and experienced than Ashyn is and teaches her many of the ways he has learned to survive. In turn, she brings out a much braver and nobler side to his character. The relationship is reciprocal with both characters learning and growing with each other. It is both very romantic and a breath of fresh air.

The book is also very emotionally powerful. I have already talked at length about how well the romance works. Another emotion that is present in many areas is fear. The spirits are very frightening. A particular reason for this is in the way they twist normal people into tools for their anger and wrath. In some cases the characters have to face people they care about who have become dangerous and bestial. Another major character who brings this emotion is the sadistic mercenary commander Barthol who works for the mysterious villain. Of the villains he and his band are the only human ones to appear with the main villain remaining in shadows. He holds a village hostage and uses the main characters’ empathy to keep them prisoner. He is very calm and calculating, but at the same time clearly enjoys the power his heinous actions give over the heroines. The book combines fantasy tropes and those of horror very effectively.

Sea Of Shadows is a very refreshing fantasy story that avoids many of the problems typical both in fantasy and in the YA market. It has very well developed characters, an interesting setting, and a plot with more than a few twists and turns. It is highly recommended and I will be looking forward to its sequels.

Cannibal the musical

Cannibal the musical is the funniest play about bestiality, starvation, and public hangings.
The play follows Alfred Packer a man accused of the grisly murder and cannibalization of his party of miners. The reporter Polly Pry manages to sneak into his cell and convince him to tell her the true story of what happened. Packer and his horse Liane are invited to join a group of minors on a journey to Colorado territory. Unfortunately the original guide Lucky Larry is suddenly struck by a bolt of lightning so they recruit Packer who has been in the area before to be there guide but it soon becomes clear that he does not know the area nearly as well as they think he does.
Despite the very dark subject matter cannibal is a very funny musical, the element that sets it apart from a lot of dark comedies is actually the way the humor functions. Despite the fact that the humor absolutely has the same edge to it as many other dark comedies it doesn’t feel like it has an edge to it. Much of the comedy feels very light, despite the very dark subject matter. Most of the characters are very likable and fun, even the ones who do terrible things. However when terrible things happen to the characters rather than being sad it is funny.

The actors are all perfect in their roles. Anthony Trombetta is great as Alfred Packer. Packer is very naïve and a little stupid, but also very genuine and sweet. Trombetta does a great job of getting this across. The standout song for him is “Shpadoinkle”, a very upbeat and optimism song about the day he expects to have. The use of made up words and strange metaphors provides half the humor were the other half comes from the certainty that everything will go wrong for him.

Rebecca Whitcher plays Polly Pry the reporter that convinces Packer to tell his story. Polly Pry has a much more direct storyline than most of the other characters starting out very cynical but slowly being drawn into his story. As she falls for him she gains her own sense of optimism. Whitcher does a great job of showing this transformation while also capitalizing on the characters humorous potential.

The Mining group that Packer leads are all very entertaining in their own right. Kyle Macdonald plays Shannon Wilson Bell the organizer of the group. In many ways Bell seems to be the most normal and stable member of the group. He is a deeply faithful man who only wants to build a church. Macdonald plays the role with a quite simple dignity, but as time goes on and the situation gets more and more dire Bell begins to show a much darker side and due to the nature of the play this is where Macdonald ability’s as a comic actor shine through. He has very great comic timing and is also very good at physical comedy. Ryan McCallion plays Israel Swan the group’s most optimistic member. McCallion does a great job portraying the characters relentlessly cheerful attitude. One of the best moments not only for his character but for the play as a whole is when they are trapped in a freezing cold winter and he decides that the best solution to their problem is to build a snowman. His rendition of his song “Let’s Build A Snowman” is filled with joy that is entirely inappropriate for the situation. Lee Malanchuk Plays the slightly insane James Humphrey. He does a great job of portraying the characters somewhat unhinged manner. Colin Miln plays George “California” Noon the groups youngest member. Miln’s performance is great because the character is obsessed with sex and Miln does a good job of portraying this but he also does a great portraying the fact that the character is still very young. He adds a wide eyed innocence to the role which adds a lot to the character. Carolyn Westberg plays Frank Miller a grouchy butcher who reluctantly joins the group. She plays the role with an admirable mix of sarcasm and rage. She also makes a great straight man to the other characters as her incredulity at their stupidity is wonderful to behold.

The miners run into a group of trappers who end up as there enemy’s. The group is led by Jason Westover as Frenchy Cabazon. He is great in the role, a chuckling cruel and thourally nasty man who is still extremely funny due to his over-the-top nature. He leads his fellow trappers in the “Trapper Song” a wild and boastful song about the trapping life. The song showcases exactly what is great about the character: he is boastful, cruel and nasty, but he is so over the top that he becomes hilarious.

Doug Rutherford plays Mills the sly prosecuting lawyer with sleazy aplomb. A particularly great moment is his leading the town in the song “Hang The Bastard.” He is obviously full of smug satisfaction about Packers upcoming death.

Winluck Wong is hilarious as a obviously Japanese ninja who is trying to blend in by pretending to native. The extreme obviousness and the his constant annoyance with the other characters stupidity is what makes the role.

Dave Paquet plays the role of Crazy Ralph a madman who tells the Miners that they will not survive. This character is only in the one scene (Paquet also plays the local sheriff) but he leaves a great impression. his repeated proclamations of doom are not only humuras in how over the top they are but also because the ultimately end being correct.

Cannibal the musical was an energetic well-acted and fun musical, it was the most fun anyone can legally have with cannibalism.

Paradise

When a brilliant writer and a brilliant director work together the results can be nothing short of amazing. Patti Flather’s is the writer of the second play I ever watched, and still one of the best, The Soul Menders. Majdi Bou-Matar is the brilliant director of last year’s Body 13. The two have brought about one of the best plays of the year, and one that captures many issues that are important both in the world at large and Whitehorse in general Paradise.

The play is an ensemble piece that follows four characters. Rachel a young woman who after spending some time in Central America is brutally sexually assaulted. Upon coming home she finds that everything in her life is changing in all sorts of ways she did not expect and she begins taking drugs as an escape. Her father George is an eccentric doctor who is struggling with his upcoming divorce. His patient Wally is a former lumberjack who after an injury has become increasingly desperate to prove that he has a problem in his ear canal, and has been becoming increasingly unstable as time goes by. Khalil is a young man of Middle Eastern descent who is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Each of these characters seeks to find some kind of humanity in the worlds various systems and find themselves stifled by them.

All of the issues of the play are very important but that would mean very little if the play was not well written. Fortunately it is. Patti Flather has always had a very deft touch for character and this play is no exception. Each of the characters feels very real, and are very sympathetic. Despite the fact that many of characters fail to understand each other in various ways and find themselves at odds none of the characters feels at all unsympathetic. You understand why the characters act in the way they do and this makes there problems seem all the more tragic.

Another really interesting element of the writing is the way that the scenes are juxtaposed with each other. In some cases when characters are going through something similar the scenes of what are happening to them occur simultaneously. At others the scenes will shift very suddenly sometimes with one of the characters from the previous scenes quickly playing a different role in another scene. A common change is for different characters to play Wally’s dog. The way that this occurs creates a unique experience.

The direction is also very well done. Majdi Bou-Matar is a very unique director with a very recognizable style. This play actually differs from many of his others in that it has a script at all. The majority of his plays are done almost entirely by improv. The freedom he gives his actors has always worked very well. there is an inherent physicality to the way the characters move. It is physical poetry.

The set design done by David Skelton is very interesting. There are bars everywhere giving the set a very oppressive atmosphere. It relates directly to how Khalil is imprisoned, but also by how all of the other characters feel imprisoned.

The actors in this play are all amazingly talented people. Pam Patel shines in the role of Rachel. There is a very powerful energy to her performance, the character is very emotional and very emotionally expressive and she does a great job at capturing that. When her character is truly happy it is impossible not to feel that happiness, by the same token it is impossible not to feel her pain at what happened to her or to feel the desperation she feels later in the play. Michael Peng does a great job as George. He really captures the characters eccentricity and hidden issues. His performance is on one hand very funny, but at the same time there is a tragedy to his character which Peng captures perfectly. Patel and Peng also have very good chemistry. The two of them feel like a real father and daughter. This can especially be seen in a scene were the two of them are looking at a bird that has flown into the birdhouse. Nicholas Cumming Is great in the role of Wally. We see his softer side in his interactions with his dog. He does a great job showing his characters frustration with the way he is treated while at the same time being very intimidating in his growing anger. Aldrin Bundoc is great in the role of Khalil he is especially impressive since his storyline is the most separated from the other characters. He has to not only show his own character arc, but also create this arc on his own through both the letters he narrates and his interactions with the guards who are not actually on stage. His performance on its own is just as impressive as the other actors. He does a superb job of capturing his characters enthusiasm and youth while also capturing the characters decent into fear anger and hopelessness.

Paradise is a powerful play that talks about some important issues while giving no easy answers. It is also a very effective and powerful character study. It deals with the issues involved in a way that pulls no punches so if you are sensitive to any of the issues you may want to give the play a pass. Otherwise this could very well be the best play of the year. It will be playing one more time tomorrow at the Yukon Arts Centre, at 8PM and then one more time at the ST. Elias Convention Centre at 7PM in Haines Junction. If you only see one play this year let it be this one.

Sir Terry Prachett: a Eulogy

Today one of my all time favorite authors Terry Prachett ha died. I remember reading my first Discworld book, It was called The Last Hero and while reading it I was just amazed that any book could be at the same time so brilliant, dramatic and tragic but at the same time so funny. I tore through book after book because of this.

Sir Terry Prachett is still one of the only book writers were I can’t read his books in a library because they make me howl with laughter. At the same time his book were always great at capturing the essential humanity of his characters.

Sir Terry Prachett’s main characters were always fascinating because they were in many ways defined by a negative emotion or idea, but they channeled it towards something good. Sam Vimes was similer to Prachett himself in how he was defined by anger, but this was an anger towards injustice that he channeled towards justice. Granny Wetherwax was defined by her ego, however she uses this to get people exactly were they need to be.

When I think about it now, much of my beliefs and certainly much of my writing has been shaped by this single man’s stories. To me Prachett will always be one of the best not just of fantasy or of humor, but of all time in any genre. Goodbye Sir Terry Prachett. The universe will be a little colder and less magical without you.