From Cradle to Stage is a Walterdale Theatre spring tradition. Playwrights submit new scripts. in the fall. One or two are chosen, and the playwrights work with a dramaturg over the winter before auditions and a production in May. This year’s dramaturg was Mieko Ouchi.
This year you can watch two plays in the From Cradle To Stage evening: a staged reading of Magpies by Mary-Ellen Perley (directed by Maia Pearson), and a full production of Jesus Master Builder by Mark Allan Greene (directed by Trish Van Doornum).
The first made me teary eyed and the second made me giggle uncontrollably when I wasn’t groaning at the puns.
Magpies is a three-hander, a set of conversations among a grandfather (Michael Schaar-Ney), grand-daughter (Shanni Pinkerton), and the mother/daughter of the in-between generation (Stephanie Swensrude). It’s set locally in neighbourhoods I could picture easily from the few stage directions. It worked very well as a staged reading because the important parts were the relationships, the interactions, and the conversations about the past, rather than the incidents taking place on- or off-stage during the time frame of the play. Although in a fully-staged production it would be fun to see the grandfather trying to shoot magpies with a Super Soaker. It touched on familiar themes – the allying of the older and younger generation against the uptight middle, the results of secrets kept, and the aftermath of death in the family and grief.
The second play, Jesus Master Builder – A Divine Comedy was a pun-filled exploration of the premise that although Jesus was canonically working with Joseph as a carpenter, he wasn’t necessarily any good at it. The script referred to a very large number of the familiar New Testament stories and King James Version/Vulgate quotations, sometimes in appropriate context and sometimes almost randomly. While we see Jesus (Michael Gordon) talking to God (the credibly awe-inspiring voice of Alex Hawkins), calling his disciples (Andrea Newman, Curtis Johnson, Michael Laplaunte, etc), and conducting his ministry, interspersed scenes tell the story of Jebediah (Brad Bishop) and his unnamed wife (Jenn Havens), on their own mission to have Jesus fix their badly-built house. On that quest they collect their own followers, a Condo Association board of misfits (Sean Richard MacKinnon, Curtis Johnson, Monica Maddaford). Havens and Bishop are especially funny. Jenn Havens’ character uses a lot of Yiddish words and intonations but nobody else does, and this is eventually addressed in the text. Jesus and his followers sometimes speak in a KJV-like dialect (thee, thou, -eth), modern youth slang which irritates his mother (Monica Maddaford). Kirk Starkie is an emotionally-overwrought Joseph, a step-parent complaining about the “fun weekend dad”, and Michael Schaar-Ney is Michael Hutz, a reno-salvage contractor like a version of Mike Holmes in tunic, tzitzit, and steel-toed sandals.
I thought it ran a little long. In the second half it slowed down a bit from a strong funny start. You will find the writing particularly amusing if you have experience with New Testament stories, condominium politics and repair orders, and/or father-figure rivalries, but enough is going on that it’s okay if you miss some of the allusions. I also liked the costumes (Geri Dittrich) a lot.
The double bill opens tonight (Monday May 18th) and continues until Saturday, May 23rd. Advance tickets are available at Tix on the Square, with tickets available for purchase at the theatre starting at 7 pm each night.
Script submissions for the 2016 From Cradle to Stage project are due at the theatre September 15th.