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Ensemble in abstract Greek costumes: Penelope sits on the end of a bed, while an actress representing her son rests head on her knee. Four female servants listen.

The Penelopiad, one of Walterdale’s best.

Alora Bowness (Penelope), Stephanie Swensrude (Telemachus), Monica Stewart, Karla Martinez, Sarah Spicer, and Katie Corrigan, in The Penelopiad. Photo Credit: Scott Henderson, Henderson Images

The lights come up on a simple set – a bed on a platform, white hanging panels lit to effect – and a young woman walks toward the audience. Now that I’m dead, I know everything, she says. After this intriguing statement, she goes on to explain that it’s not quite true – like everything else, it’s been simplified in the version we know.

Alora Bowness is Penelope In Walterdale Theatre’s current production of The Penelopiad. She caught my interest from these first lines, and continued throughout the performance, telling and illustrating her story with humility, determination, wry humour, and willingness to acknowledge the consequences of her choices.

But The Penelopiad, adapted by Margaret Atwood from her novella in 2007, doesn’t just examine the story of Penelope, but also of her enslaved maids. The narrative unfolds in short scenes, switching between Penelope telling the story, to ensemble members acting the story, to choral/choric recitation and dance by the maids, or sailors, or even at one point a flock of ducks. The story moves smoothly and with compelling pace, as directed by Kristen M. Finlay, from Penelope’s birth to a naiad mother (Mandy Stewart) and mercurial King Icarius of Sparta (Angela James-Findlay), through her childhood, her marriage to Odysseus (Katy Yachimec-Farries), move to Ithaca, and then what happens to her through the timeframe of Odysseus long journey to Troy and then home, as first told in Homer’s Odyssey.

I had seen the Citadel production of this play in 2013, using 13 talented young artists in that year’s Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Program. The Walterdale production is funnier than I remembered, and in the intimate Walterdale space I felt more engaged with the dangers and challenges of Penelope’s situation. I loved the costumes of the current production (Alodie Larochelle design) – all the maids wearing the same fabrics in grey and black, but in silhouettes that were different for each individual, with braided rope belts in different colours. The songs and poems of Atwood’s script were set to original music, lively or lyrical or haunting as appropriate (Gibson Finlay and Kristen Finlay, composition, Sally Hunt musical director).

Three things about the plot/theme struck me hard this time around. I’ve been thinking about them for days, and I’m planning to return this week for a second viewing, after which I will think about them some more.

  • The relationship between Penelope and Odysseus is shown as nuanced and mostly positive. Classic tropes/assumptions of a girl married off to an older warrior do not hold. It is refreshing to see Odysseus gentle with his new bride and wooing her with stories, and their reunion after the many years of voyaging is equally gentle and consensual. He’s still the product of that particular patriarchal society and family, though.
  • If one focuses on Penelope, it’s a relatively happy story – she overcomes early mortal danger, learns from many mentors and supports, manages the kingdom in Odysseus’ absence, and develops a famous ruse to protect herself from impatient suitors. But Atwood’s script and Finlay’s direction keep reminding the viewer that the story of the maids is just as important. Penelope’s monologue recounting life as an unappreciated girl-child of a royal mixed-marriage is followed immediately by a chorus of maids speaking bluntly to the audience. “We too were children. We too were born to the wrong parents. Poor parents, slave parents, peasant parents, and serf parents; parents who sold us, parents from whom we were stolen.” And the story of the maids is a tragedy. They do what Penelope asks of them – and it has terrible results for them.
  • Those terrible results are due to some of Penelope’s strategies and choices. She acknowledges her mistakes in monologues from her afterlife. But they are also directly due to the customs and expectations of that patriarchal culture. Odysseus acts to punish them using limited information and an offensive set of assumptions. But he gets that information from his son Telemachus, a young man by then, and from his old nursemaid Eurycleia. Both actors in the Walterdale production were compelling, Stephanie Swensrude as the spoiled boy turned resentful young man and Vivien Bosley as the nurse/governess who petted and encouraged young Odysseus and then spoiled his son, turning him against his mother Penelope. I was reminded of how important it is for any society to raise boys to be compassionate and justice-seeking, and how wrong things can go when this does not happen. Unfortunately, this continues to be a timely and critical reminder. And as we move closer to Mother’s Day, I’m thinking about how the responsibility of setting the next generation on a better path should not just be placed on mothers, but on all of us.

Alora Bowness as Penelope, Katy Yachimec-Ferries as Odysseus, Vivien Bosley as Eurycleia. Photo credit Scott Henderson, Henderson Images.

Thank you, cast and team of The Penelopiad, for making me think. The Penelopiad continues at Walterdale Theatre tonight through Saturday night, with an 8 pm curtain. Tonight, Wednesday, is pay what you can night; tomorrow, Thursday May 11, is limited capacity night, for patrons who would prefer more elbow room for better air quality. Masks are recommended but not required at all performances. Advance tickets are available here; some seats will be available at the door an hour before showtime.

Spooky October performances 2018

I’m not managing to see everything on Edmonton stages these days, but I wish I could.  I wish I’d seen Lenin’s Embalmers at U of A Studio Theatre, or the Maggie Tree production Blood: A Scientific Romance.  From what I’ve read about them, it looks like the creepy or paranormal themes could have fit into this Hallowe’en-week blog roundup, too.

At the Walterdale Theatre, I helped work on The Triangle Factory Fire Project, a script prepared by Christopher Piehler in collaboration with Scott Alan Evans using various primary source materials, and directed here by Barbara Mah.   It was thought-provoking and disturbing, because the horrible fates of real people were depicted graphically, because the resulting legal case portrayed did not result in justice, and because the hazards of the garment industry juxtaposed with fashion advertising are not so different from their contemporary equivalents.   Watching this story play out every night as one of the booth operators, I kept cheering for some of the determined young women who lived to tell their own stories, particularly Rose Freedman (Danielle Yu), and Ethel Monick, (Stephanie Swensrude), and kept getting angry at the factory owners and their lawyer (Eric Rice, Kent Sutherland, and Matthew Bearsto).  It was a relief to close that show and watch some scary shows for fun.  

Dead Centre of Town XI has four more performances in the Blatchford hangar at Fort Edmonton Park.  This year the macabre true stories researched and written by Megan and Beth Dart of Catch the Keys all relate to air travel.  As usual, the audience members are guided through relevant settings to encounter the characters of various disasters and mysterious happenings, while super-creepy poet/narrator Colin Matty provides extra detail and atmosphere.  “If humans were intended to fly, why are they so Goddamned squishy?”, he muses.  More live-theatre than haunted-house, this annual immersive event does a great job at making the details build up the overall experience – even the ticket distribution (“boarding passes”) and the traffic-management (impersonal masked uniformed airport workers in a crowded “boarding lounge” with staticky announcements) are part of the adventure.

Dark! at Fort Edmonton is new this year, adding on food (with creepy nicknames like Bloody Balls and Skewered Rat), drinks, and adult-level haunted-house attractions.  I went to one of the haunts, and decided that I prefer the Dead Centre of Town style of horrifying imagery enhanced by narrative, to the unexplained jump-scares of Dark!

The Bone House, by Marty Chan, also has performances remaining on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.  It was also very scary in a different style again.  At first it felt like a TV or movie experience, with a forensic-psychology expert presenting an illustrated lecture about serial killers, but it became more unsettling – it was easy to involve myself into the story enough that I could imagine being in danger, but I also began to feel somewhat complicit in choosing to listen to serial-killer narratives in any medium.  Brrr.

This weekend I also managed to fit in a performance of Northern Light Theatre’s Origin of the Species, by Bryony Lavery.  With direction and set/costume design by Trevor Schmidt and performances by Kristin Johnston and Holly Turner, it uses the ridiculous premise of a contemporary archaeologist encountering a live prehistoric woman, to touch on several important themes with a subtle touch.  I particularly enjoyed the very gradual transition of the prehistoric woman Victoria (Johnston) towards modern physicality and communication, and the many ways that both characters subvert assumptions about “traditional” gender roles.

Blue Stockings, by Jessica Swale

Lucy Vogue and Aidan Thomas in Blue Stockings. Photo: Scott Henderson, Henderson Images.


Blue Stockings is set at the University of Cambridge, in 1896, and mostly at Girton, a women’s college of the university.  It follows a study group of four young women in their first year at the college, Tess (Lucy Vogue), Carolyn (Monica Lefurgey), Celia (Jocelyn Jay), and Maeve (Maggie Salopek), showing their passion for learning science, their struggles with learning to disagree with sources and defend their ideas, and their commitment to future careers in teaching, research, and medicine.  The play also shows how they are treated by faculty male and female, by their male peers, and by College staff including a chaperone (Julie Sinclair) and a maid willing to circumvent the chaperone (Rebecca Collins).

I was pleased to see the way the script touched on many issues of women’s education which were not black-and-white.  The male faculty’s attitudes ranged from enthusiastically supportive (Dave Wolkowski as physics lecturer) to pseudoscientifically condescending (Martin Stout as renowned psychiatrist).  The head of the women’s college (Elizabeth Marsh) is single-minded in her attempts to gain degree-seeking status for the young women through the university Senate and vote of members.  This cause drives her to disavow any connection with the too-radical suffragist cause and to expel a student who is needed at home because letting her stay might be used as a demonstration that women’s education hurts families.  The students also sometimes find themselves torn between their passion for study and the temptations of romance, with significant consequences.

Director Laura Ly used a cast of 19 to portray the 25 characters, and set designer Alan Westen used rotating backdrops and moving furniture to present various university settings.

If, like myself, you learned about the history of women’s university education in England through Dorothy Sayers’ wonderful 1935 novel Gaudy Night, you may be unsurprised by the women’s constant need to justify their presence, but surprised by some of the history.  Gaudy Night is set at Oxford rather than Cambridge, which explains the main difference.

Blue Stockings plays at the Walterdale Theatre until Saturday April 14th, including a matinee today.  Advance tickets are at Tix on the Square and same-day tickets are at the door.

Letters from (and to) A Doll’s House

torvald nora

Tim Marriott, as Torvald, and Nicole English, as Nora, in A Doll’s House. Photo Kristen Finlay.

Dear Captain Awkward:

I’m worried about my old friend. I just moved to her city, and we’ve been spending time together for the first time since she got married.  Captain, I think she’s married to a Darth Vader Boyfriend.  She pretends to follow his order not to eat macaroons, but sneaks them behind his back.  When I offered to help her with some mending, she pushed me into the kitchen with the help, saying “Torvald can’t stand to see anyone sewing”.  And he totally mansplained me the other day about how knitting was an ugly low-class pastime and advised me how to do embroidery instead.  She goes along with his whims to a ridiculous extent and she thinks he’s wonderful.  Captain, what can I do?

  • (pronouns she/her). 

Dear Ask a Manager:

I don’t have good references because I made some mistakes in my past.  No charges were laid, but I was stuck using some sketchy schemes to make money for a while, until I got this entry-level job at the bank.  Now I’m keeping my record clean and looking forward to promotion.  When I found out one of my old school friends was hired as the new vice-president, I was sure this would be an advantage for me.  So I started dropping in at his office and reminiscing loudly about the things we got up to at school.  And now he says I’m being too familiar and he’s given me a written warning and a pink slip!  However, I’ve got something on his wife (see above, sketchy schemes), so I was thinking that I should just blackmail them into letting me keep my job and move up at the bank.  Nothing can go wrong with this, right?


Dear Miss Manners:

As I am in chronic pain due to congenital syphilis (which my nanny told me was my father’s fault), I would like to die with dignity while I have some agency.  I don’t think my friends could handle seeing me in rough shape, so I’d like to tell them to stay away.  What’s the approved way of notifying them using visiting cards? 


From Dan Savage, Savage Love, confidential to NoNoNora:  DTMFA.

2022 update: The Savage Love archives have now moved here and do not appear to have a search function.  Dan Savage’s frequent terse advice to people in bad relationships is defined in this Wikipedia entry.

The conflicts and choices portrayed in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, first produced in 1879, are disturbingly timely in 2017.   Alex Hawkins directed the current Walterdale Theatre Associates production to show the complexity of all the characters and the ways class and gender affect their choices. Nicole English (last seen as Mrs. Lovett in ELOPE’s Sweeney Todd) is troubling and inspiring as Nora, and the rest of the cast is strong as well (Tim Marriott as Torvald, Dave Wolkowski as Krogstad, Marsha Amanova as Christine, dale Wilson as Dr. Rank, and Leslie Caffaro as Anne Marie).   The designers worked with the restrained palette of 1879 Norway to create an atmosphere embodying both oppression and beauty, with set by Joan Heys Hawkins, costumes by Geri Dittrich, lighting by Richard Hatfield and Rebecca Cave, sound by Kiidra Duhault, and props by Alayna Hunchak.

A Doll’s House continues at the Walterdale Theatre until Saturday October 21st, 8 pm Tuesday-Saturday and 2 pm Sunday.  Same-day tickets are available at the door and advance tickets are through Tix on the Square.

Follies performers dancing, 1941 and 1971 characters

Follies, and other celebrations of theatre

Walterdale Theatre’s production of Follies, the 1971 Sondheim musical, opens tonight.  I was able to see a preview last night, and I found it touching, sometimes sad, and sometimes so funny that I couldn’t stop giggling.   As suits a show about retired showgirls, it has interesting music (under the direction of Michael Clark) a large ensemble cast, production dance numbers (choreography by Barb Mah and Alyssa Paterson), sparkly festive costumes with headpieces (Karin Lauderdale), and some beautiful solos.

The premise of the show seemed not unusual to me, the idea of middle-aged former performers reuniting before an old theatre is torn down, and reminiscing about past life.  What seemed more original about this story is the concept of the characters having shadows or ghosts or echoes of their former selves, living their 1941 lives around and in between the returnees living their 1971 lives.  In 1941, there were eight showgirls and a couple of young sailors, each identified as the earlier self of one of the 1971 characters.  As the reunion visitors catch up with each other about their lives and play out current conflicts, we see the shadows of their past selves dancing and singing and speaking about their dreams and romances and ambitions in 1941.

I can’t readily say what was my favourite part of this show.  I loved the song “Who’s That Woman”, led by Stella (Joyanne Rudiak), in which the 1971 women make it look hard to reproduce a tap number of their youth, blended with the 1941 women making it look easy.  I loved how the blue-grey playsuits of the 1941 dancers and the cold blue-tinged lighting (Brad Melrose) showed them to be memories, while the warmer palettes for the 1971 characters were often present at the same time.  I laughed hard at the over-the-top costumes for the fantasy sequences starting with “Loveland”.  I was moved by Carlotta Campion’s (Kristen M Finlay’s) triumphant solo about her existence and persistence, “I’m Still Here”.  And I was deeply disconcerted watching Ben’s (Gavin Belik’s) brash confidence in “Live, Laugh, Love” gradually crumble into a complete breakdown, while the spirits of chorus dancers flutter gaily around him as if nothing is wrong or he is a figure of fun.  Leslie Caffaro is a strong actor in the lead role of Sally and Aaron Schaan has an amusing cameo as Kevin the Waiter.

Same-day tickets are available at the door, and advance tickets through Tix on the Square.  Follies plays until Saturday July 15th.

follies 2

Monica Roberts and Leslie Caffaro play Phyllis and Sally, former roommates and rivals and friends.  Photo credit Barb Mah.


Last week the Edmonton theatre community celebrated the 2016-2017 season at the Sterling Awards Gala.  Productions taking home multiple awards included the Citadel’s Crazy for You, Edmonton Actors’ Theatre’s Stupid Fucking Bird, Theatre Network’s Irma Voth, and Impossible Mongoose’s The Fall of the House of Atreus: A Cowboy Love Story.  But as usual, the night reminded me of the wide breadth of talents and passions and visions in the Edmonton theatre scene, amateur as well as professional, and I look forward to watching and discussing many more delightful and challenging performances in the future.   As usual at the Sterlings, the script was entertaining and the tech and stage-management invisible, making the evening go quickly and amusingly.

After Found Festival was over, I was still thinking about some of the productions I’d seen, and wanted to make some additional notes.

In the Admit One show In Shoes, the viewer is guided on a quick walk around a popular block of Old Strathcona, encountering various characters who all connect in ways that become clear.  Although I had seen all the performers in other roles in the past, I was never aware of any of them until the moment at which they figuratively stepped on stage to take over from the previous actor.  It was as if they were non-playing characters on Whyte Avenue, part of the streetscape, until that moment.  This fascinated me.  It reminded me of the TV show Being Erica, and how Erica often encountered the therapist Dr. Tom on the street, appearing as a hot dog vendor or bartender or pedestrian just as she needed him.  It also reminded me of some video game – I don’t know if it’s World of Warcraft or if it’s a common custom – where everything in the environment that the player can interact with has a sort of halo outline that’s lacking in other parts of the background.

On the last day of Found Festival, I was able to attend a performance of Before The River, a roving performance along the pathways by Mill Creek. Colin Matty, Shannon Hunt, Katrusia Pohoreski, Jameela McNeil, and Liam Coady performed an eerie folkloric tale from Ukrainian tradition.

And now it’s summer!  Time for Freewill Shakespeare and the rest of the summer festivals and looking forward to Fringe.  Enjoy!


W;t at the Walterdale

The drama W;t  (pronounced like Wit), opened tonight at the Walterdale Theatre.  I have been fond of that play since I worked on a scene from it in a Citadel acting class a couple of years ago.  The current production, directed by Anne-Marie Szucs, is wonderful.  As long as you are not in a life situation where watching someone on a stage dying from cancer would be too difficult, I will recommend this production to you.

Mary-Ellen Perley is wonderful as Dr. Vivian Bearing, the 50-year-old academic and Donne scholar who has cancer, “late-stage metastatic ovarian cancer”.   She is detached and wry, angry, lonely, thoughtful, blunt, and eventually in anguish, and it felt real to me.

The script (by Margaret Edson, and with a Pulitzer prize) and the direction and design of this production show what it’s like to be whisked around from test to test, technician to technician to research fellow, in a hospital.  The ensemble players (Kingsley Leung, Sarah Van Tassel, Macalan Boniec-Jedras, Katelyn Trieu), dressed in matching scrubs and clean sneakers, whisk various pieces of apparatus around the stage, deliver Dr. Bearing to each test by wheelchair, and speak a few rote sentences each time, all the while moving at high speed and never making eye contact with Dr. Bearing or with each other.   Glimpses of humanity in the medical setting are provided by her oncologist (dale Wilson) and by the nurse Susie (Bethany Hughes).   Her one visitor in the hospital is her old graduate supervisor Dr. Ashcroft (Syrell Wilson), also seen in a flashback scene showing Vivian as a driven undergraduate and Dr. Ashcroft as both academically demanding and encouraging the student Vivian to seek out balanced life.

Two particularly telling scenes late in the story and late in the progression of Vivian’s illness are conversations she has in her hospital room with Susie and with the research fellow Jason (Mark Drelich).  To Jason, she acknowledges that like him, she’s always been more interested in research than in people.   It is clear to the audience that Vivian now wants more human connection than people like Jason are giving, but she does not criticize him directly or expect him to change, or nor does she express any regrets for her own choices.   Susie is on night shift when Vivian wants someone to talk to.  Susie brings the conversation around to the prognosis and the hard decisions about end-of-life choices.   And in one of the most unguarded moments, Vivian asks, child-like, whether Susie will still take care of her until the end.

And the end is … the end.  Messy and unfair and ugly – until it isn’t.


Playing at the Walterdale until Saturday the 12th, 8 pm Tues-Sat and 2 pm Sunday, advance tickets at Tix on the Square and same-day tickets at the theatre unless they sell out.  Which they might.


Dark humour and a celebration of love: Jeffrey

Earlier this week I was fortunate to being able to attend a preview show for Walterdale Theatre Associates’ new production of Jeffrey, the 1992 comedy by Paul Rudnick about a young single gay man in New York City, frustrated by the precautions and disclosures and negotiations around sex in the era of AIDS.  It was directed by Kyle Thulien and Sarah Van Tassel.   Jeffrey (Sean Richard MacKinnon) decides that he’s just going to stop having sex.  This works out about as well as you might expect, starting with him going to the gym for distraction and encountering handsome Steve (Logan Boon).   Thus follows a whirlwind of glimpses of Jeffrey’s life as a catering waiter and aspiring actor, with his close friends Sterling (Gerald Mason), an interior designer and his younger boyfriend Darius (Simon Müller), a chorus performer in the musical Cats!  Jeffrey works at fundraisers and funerals, takes his laundry to the cleaner on Pride Parade day, sits with Sterling in the hospital where Darius is dying, and explores a church, a kind of sex club, and a game-show panel in some of the less narrative-reality-based scenes.   The rest of the ensemble (Trevor Talbott, Mark Kelly, Catherine Wenschlag, and Morgan D. D. Refschauge) play various characters in all these settings.  I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Jeffrey imagines his conservative kind Wisconsinite parents (Wenschlag and Talbott) giving him homey but disturbingly explicit advice about sex, and Wenschlag as an overbearingly-enthusiastic mother on Pride day, reminiscent of Sharon Gless’s character Debbie on Queer As Folk (the Toronto/Pittsburgh version).

We learn that Steve is HIV-positive and we watch Sterling and Jeffrey cope with Darius’s illness and death, and Jeffrey’s reaction goes from seeming funny and overly squeamish to grippingly understandable.  Jeffrey’s determination to avoid the complications of sex looks very much like anyone’s determination to avoid the risk of heartbreak by not falling in love – and by the end we are all cheering for him and Steve to get together.

This story is set several years after the events portrayed in The Normal Heart and in Angels in America Part I.  It was set in the same city and about the same year as the most recent Walterdale show, Six Degrees of Separation, which gives perspective to the society matron’s question in that show “Are you infected? do you have AIDS?” as quite a reasonable worry.  The dark humour of this script around finding new cultural norms for sexual behaviour must have been very powerful when it was first produced, with audiences who remembered the time before safer sex and were themselves learning how their lives would change.    As I was volunteering at a student preview show, I was privileged to attend a cast/crew talkback session, in which participants in the show provided some of their perspectives and some context to the young audience.  I think it is still funny for modern audiences, and its message celebrating the joy in committed love is universal.

Jeffrey is playing at the Walterdale Theatre until Saturday February 14th (another option for your Valentines’ Day date!) with tickets at Tix on the Square.


Six Degrees of Separation

My posting hiatus of December and January started with being too busy, and I kept meaning to tell you why.   (Not the parts about work, Christmas-present knitting, needing a tire repair in a snowstorm, or straining my knee – those don’t make such interesting reading.)

In the fall I was  working on the play Six Degrees of Separation.  I enjoyed watching the production develop through the rehearsal process and it was a delight to share it with thoughtful audiences and hear/see them chuckle and sigh and applaud.

Six Degrees of Separation is a drama, written by John Guare and inspired by anecdotes of an incident he heard about from friends in New York City society in the early 1990s, in which several people were taken in by a young man claiming to be a movie star’s son and a university classmate of their children.  Back then it was a little harder or a little less natural to fact-check a new acquaintance, compared to today when it doesn’t feel like an unusual effort or a sign of mistrust to quickly check Facebook and other databases and follow up with questions.  In this case, one might use Facebook to find the visitor connected to the student family members and see which of one’s Facebook friends might know the movie star mentioned, as well as looking up the movie star on imdb.com and Wikipedia.  You might do this even when you don’t mistrust the new acquaintance, just to further the conversation and enhance your memory.  So if this story happened today it wouldn’t happen in quite the same way.  “Try the public library.” “Try Who’s Who“, the socialites suggest as a way of verifying what they’d been told.  “Who do we know who knows Sidney Poitier?” they wonder.  Confirming with their children away at school is delayed by difficulty getting through on the phone.  And the smooth-talking young man has slipped away long before they find a book in a bookstore confirming that Sidney Poitier, the movie star, has no sons.

So the details of the story set it firmly in a slightly dated period, but the attitudes remain familiar.  Ouisa and Flan Kitteridge (Nicolle Lemay and Nelson Niwa) are the wealthy Manhattan art-dealer couple recounting the story to the theatre audience.  Mary Ellen Perley and Darrell Portz, dale Wilson, and Bob Klakowich are other members of their social circle taken in by the charming young man (Jordy Kieto).  Macalan Boniec-Jedras, Samara Von Rad, Frank Keller, and Julian Stamer are their children, hostile to their parents while assuming the privileges of their birth.

After the first round of deceptions is uncovered, with some sense of betrayal especially to Ouisa but no material losses, things get darker.  Paul, the charming mysterious manipulator at the heart of the story, goes on to draw in some more vulnerable young people, played by Rudy Weibe, Kate Jestadt Hamblin, and Kyle Tennant, and to leave each of them devastated.   The ending is cryptic and unsettling.  Paul is the central character in the story, but in the playwright’s convention of having various characters step out of scene to provide narrative to the audience, we never ever hear from Paul directly.  We never do get to find out what he’s thinking or why he does anything he does, and I don’t believe anything he says.   It’s a fascinating script and a complex story.  I kept finding more in it throughout the rehearsal process, and the cast did it justice.  Apart from the main characters mentioned above, the story was filled out with Mark McGarrigle (a detective), Sonja Gould (a building concierge and a police officer), and Selina Collins and Greg Kroestch (ubiquitous servants).

And Then, the Lights Went Out …

The first show of the Walterdale Theatre’s season is And Then, The Lights Went Out, written by Andy Garland and directed by David Johnston.   It’s partly a funny story about a writer’s life and partly a hard-boiled detective tale using all the tropes of that genre.

John Evans plays Thomas, a young novelist who is running out of ideas for his detective-story series.  Erin Forwick-Whalley and Jennifer Peebles are his landlady and neighbour, providing stakes, comic relief, and encouragement for him to finish his seventh novel for tomorrow’s deadline.  The rest of the characters in the play are the characters in Thomas’s work-in-progress, ‘tried and true archetypes’ of the trenchcoat-wearing private detective (Kyle Lahti), the mysterious alluring woman (Erika Conway), the thug (Chance Heck), the perky sidekick police officer (Hayley Moorhouse), and a menacing Southern not-such-a-gentleman who reminded me of a Die-Nasty character from the Tennessee-Williams-pastiche season (Curtis Knecht).

At first, there is some amusement in the concept of the characters having life outside of the story and having opinions on the writer’s work, especially the thug who wants to be different.  But I’d seen that done before.  I was reminded of stories about moviemaking, like Make Mine Love, or the Die-Nasty marathon weekend where everyone was a soap-opera character and also an actor.  I noticed that most of the characters spoke with different accents when they were “on stage” in the story, accents that evoked the hard-boiled stories of Raymond Chandler and Humphrey Bogart in Maltese Falcon, and then shifted to speech similar to Thomas’ own when they were not acting out the story.  Lights Went Out got more interesting and satisfying when the characters started pushing Thomas to make them more than stock characters, and then as he wrote they played out a story which had a satisfying and not entirely predictable ending.

And Then, The Lights Went Out continues at the Walterdale Theatre until this Saturday (October 25th).  Tickets are available at the door, or in advance through Tix on the Square.   The next show on the Walterdale stage will be John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation, in early December.  I’ve been helping out with that one, and I think it will be good.

Starless, by Eric Rice

This year’s selection for Walterdale Theatre’s From Cradle to Stage new plays project was one longer work instead of a series of one-acts, Eric Rice’s work Starless.  I saw it tonight, and I found it unexpectedly moving.  So much so that I had trouble articulating questions at the talkback after the show.

That is a compliment.   I guess it’s a compliment to share among the writer, the dramaturge Tracy Carroll, the director Marsha Amanova, and several of the cast members.

Starless is a story about two homeless people, Ralph (Mark Anderako) and Mary (Monica Maddaford), and the people they interact with during one difficult day, a police constable (Dave Wolkowski), a boy (Carter Hockley), a blog reporter (Stephanie O’Neill), an artist/art-vendor (Jim Zalcik), a priest (Zalcik), and a landlord (Wolkowski).  The title refers to an advantage of sleeping outdoors over sleeping under a roof, that outdoors you can see the stars.  Ralph, the main character, seemed both credible and interesting – physically frail, foulmouthed, dirty, cynical, but at the same time having a clear sense of fairness and a tendency to poetic metaphor.  The audience never finds out Ralph’s whole backstory, because he’s not someone who would tell any of the people he encounters that day, and as his love Mary says (approximately – I stopped taking notes), “We don’t tell those stories.  Those were just things that happened.  We just tell the story that ends with living happily ever after.”

The set was simple but evocative of various outdoor locations – a park, a church doorstep, a coffee shop patio, the back of a low-rent apartment building.  Stage lighting is still a mystery to me, so I was astonished to realize at intermission that the floor was actually not green; it was just lit that way during the park scenes.  The music at intermission and after the show (Don Henley’s “Starry Starry Night” and a familiar cover of the Beatles’ “Let It Be”) was just perfect, fitting the story and the mood with emotionally familiar song, and I don’t remember now whether there was pre-show music or not.   I also appreciated the artist’s painting representing a monochrome version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night (“I call it Van Gogh misplaces his palette”), recalling my recent visit to the original work in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Maddaford and Hockley also played characters with enough depth to be intriguing and their own personal challenges.   Maddaford played Mary with an appealing serenity and some native shrewdness, and it eventually turned out to be easy to see why she and Ralph were together.  Hockley had great facial expressions when he was listening, very believable for a kid who is accustomed to be on the edges of adult conversations that he might disagree with or worry about.  His speaking was occasionally difficult to follow, although I’m not sure whether he was too fast, too quiet, or just not making his words distinct.

The minor character who most caught my attention was Jim Valcik’s artist, identified in the program as Vendor, a glib and self-absorbed painter who jumps to assure Ralph he can identify with him but doesn’t listen to him.  “Chaos and bars?  Yep, that was our art-student life; it was great!”

Starless is playing at the Walterdale through Saturday night, 8 pm curtain.  Advance tickets  are at Tix on the Square (listed as From Cradle to Stage), and also available at the door.  Thursday is 2-for-1 night.