A Handmaiden’s Gift to the Theatre World

hagseed

HAG-SEED

Margaret Atwood

2016, Hogarth Press

 

Like every Artistic Director milling around the theatre world, Felix Phillips has a dream: to present the most cutting-edge Shakespearean productions any small town has ever seen. To “raise the bar as high as the moon.”

 

Felix builds a dynasty. The festival becomes an annual local highlight. A cottage industry forms. Feeling the height of his powers, Felix believes himself indispensable.

 

The only problem: Felix’s productions border on ridiculous. In his new interpretation of The Tempest he’ll have a quadriplegic Caliban riding around on a skateboard. Fairies are re-imagined as aliens and vampires. What Felix believes his greatest triumph is in reality fodder for those looking to fill his shoes.

 

And here we see Atwood’s clever tack; each character delivered by the author replicates that of Shakespeare’s great tragedy. Soon, like Prospero himself, Felix finds himself targeted by Tony & Sal, ambitious local politicians who see the arts festival as a springboard to their own careers.

 

Hag-Seed is part of Random House’s Hogarth project, reintroducing Shakespeare to mainstream literature. Atwood’s modern retelling of The Tempest is complete and its cast amazingly appealing.

 

Atwood opens her story by putting us in the thick of the Felix’s tempest. Like Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider, it’s still a very effective tool, baiting the audience early on with the heart of the action and a glimpse of the story’s conclusion. That moment is so intriguing, we’ll ride it out chapter after chapter to see it come to fruition.

 

Atwood, best known for her dystopian 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, draws out Felix quickly, disgraced and dismissed from the festival, finding exile in a small hovel built by early pioneers. There, haunted by the ghost of his late daughter, he installs a few modern refinements: electricity and the internet. Soon he spies opportunity; a local men’s prison is assembling a theatrical troupe to introduce the creative arts, as performed by fellow inmates. Ah yes, The Tempest is again in his grasp.

 

The correctional facility is a setting Felix can relate to. The director of the program knows who he was and conspires to keep his former identity a secret. Felix makes good on his promise; in exchange for a life much less glamorous Felix begins his work with the inmates in search of redemption – and his ultimate revenge. Only in a book like Atwood’s will you find hardened criminals replacing blockhouse profanity with Shakespearean dialect: Scurvy. Pied ninny. Hag Seed.

 

Felix is hatching an elaborate plot to ensnare Tony & Sal, neutralize their careers, and restore his previous glory. But now, with his greatest achievement – his Tempest triumphantly staged, he’s free to choose: move on, or remain a prisoner of hate.

 

 

HAG-SEED

Margaret Atwood

2016, Hogarth Press

Random House, 301 pgs.

 

The Fusion Grill

fusion-1

THE FUSION GRILL

2024 Avenida De los Arboles

Thousand Oaks, CA

805-241-0449

A quick check on Wikipedia shows that fusion is defined as: “the process of combining two or more distinct entities into a new whole.” Owners Boroka and Jorge Soriano definitely know something about that.

Boroka, a transplant from Romania, and husband Jorge, from Mexico City, have married a world of ingredients into an intriguing and pleasing menu at the Fusion Grill, now located at 2024 Avenida De los Arboles in Thousand Oaks.

Defined as “eclectic Italian, French and Asian” cuisine, you might recognize some names involved with Fusion Grill. The restaurant has recently relocated from an Amgen-adjacent locale in Newbury Park, to the former site of Chen’s in Oakbrook Plaza. Husband and chef Jorge worked for the former Galletto’s Ristorante in Westlake Village, so it will be no surprise to customers new and old that his touch with ingredients is just as deft and appealing. “He has the touch,” Boroka says.

And fusion isn’t just a convenient name for a new restaurant; here, it’s a theme. The decor and furniture could be Japanese influenced, or contemporary American. Focus on one spot of the room and you’re in a wine bar; another, you’re watching a flat screen at your local sports bar. A number of patrons on a Monday night weren’t disappointed when they came in for dinner and found the regular Monday Night Football game on.

The menu you’ll grab upon entering and number card on your table might remind you of another one of Galletto’s old neighbors, the Natural Cafe. The Soriano’s offer nine kinds of salad, seven types of wraps, six sandwiches and five burgers – covering everything from a standard cheeseburger to an Angus beef Jalapeno burger.

The pasta department is Jorge’s ‘eclectic’ part of Fusion’s description. There’s Fusion Chicken Penne with a creamy, tomato chipotle sauce, and the Penne Arrabiata is a pure-tasting blend of kalamota olives, capers, goat cheese and fresh basil.

Fusion’s steak salad had lean, perfectly cooked slices and a light lemon olive oil dressing that isn’t overbearing. The Ahi Tuna wrap is generous and comes with a creative blend of wasabi aioli dip.

Beer and wine are available. Soda drinkers who hate how heavy sodas make them feel will be delighted with the Stubborn Cola dispenser. Their sodas contain real sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup. And for those in need of a serious fix or just a good cup of coffee, Jorge has brought in a full-tilt espresso machine. “My husband’s second car,” Boroka calls it.

There’s also a breakfast menu starting at 7am offering steak & eggs, omelettes and a variety of sandwiches. Boroka makes a serious glass of OJ with her Spanish-made orange juice squeezing machine. And if you’re the busy type, it’s easy to find an outlet for your devices, and wi-fi is always available.

On a recent visit, Boroka was seen pouring two glasses of wine. Seeing she was faced with a dinner rush of customers, the man who’d ordered the wine retrieved the glasses from his host, giving her one less thing to do. The moment one enters the Fusion Grill, a genuine smile and greeting announces that a spirit of cooperation isn’t an exception here but a recurring theme.

Toward closing time, an older gentleman with a stoop and a cane struggled to push the door open on a windy night. A young man in a hoodie swooped quickly around and held it for him. At the counter, asked once more about her new location, Boroka said: “this place, it’s our third child.”

And it all starts with a smile.

THE FUSION GRILL

2024 Avenida De los Arboles

Thousand Oaks, CA

805-241-0449

Take-out available