St Albert Theatre Troupe’s current show is Waiting for the Parade, by John Murrell, directed by Louise Large. It’s set in Calgary during World War II, examining the lives of five women in wartime. The set has five chairs set around the sides of the stage, each supported by some furniture and props representing the living environment for each woman. The story unfolds in a series of vignettes and monologues. The lighting shifts to the story being told, and the actors not involved in that scene are seated motionless and solitary in their own homes.
Not all the men in their lives are away at war, but they are all off-stage in one way or another. What makes it more interesting is that the five women aren’t easily together as a group of friends. Some have more in common than others. When bossy Janet (Rhonda Kozuska) leads a group for some war-related project, the young teacher Eve (Jessica Andrews) tries hard to comply with her demands but older gloomier Margaret (Joanne Poplett) and independent-minded Catherine (Andrea Newman) resist. And after a while I realised that Marta (Samara von Rad), the German-Canadian woman running her father’s tailor shop while he is interned, is completely left out of the war work or the other women’s social lives. This divide is expressed most poignantly early in the show when the group is singing the song Lili Marlene in English and Marta steps up to join in singing it in German. “How odd. I had forgotten it was one of theirs, first” sniffs Janet. Later, the other women gradually find more connection with Marta and she relaxes a bit with them, but never with Janet – the careful avoidance of a cemetery greeting at the end is sad but appropriate.
Like The Mothers or Atwood’s Penelopiad, this narrative explores the women’s version of a story that often focuses on the men’s actions. The characters in this story end up confiding in each other about frustrations with husbands, fathers, and sons. As the men are away or unavailable, the women’s bonds with each other are at least as significant as those within the families. The performance ends with several of the women on a train platform waiting hopefully for Catherine’s husband to return home. The war is over and so is this chapter.
Waiting for the Parade was directed with a light touch. The performers found some of the humour in the character interactions without making any of them caricatures. I was amused by Margaret’s straight-faced side comments (especially about pickles) and impressed by Marta’s never-resolved frustration with the situation she’s left in by her father.
Waiting for the Parade continues tonight and Thursday through Saturday next weekend, at the Kinsmen Korral in St Albert off Riel Drive. Tickets are on their website here. There is a well-stocked concession lounge available before the show and lots of parking.