Accents, sex & scrappin’ in After Mrs. Rochester

When cast member Tina McCulloch, also now Alumnae’s bloggergal, mentioned in a post that After Mrs. Rochester featured accents, sex and fight scenes – she had me at “accents.” Well, actually, she had me at “sex” – especially since this is an all-gal cast, with two actors playing an assortment of male characters. And a gal playing a guy is always sexy.

Alumnae’s production, the Canadian premiere of Polly Teale’s play, is directed by Laura Roald (who did double duty as set designer). And Roald wasn’t the only one pulling extra work; “not crying at all” co-producers PJ Hammond (costume design) and Tabitha Keast (actor, playing multiple male roles) also put on other production hats – and PJ was the sound op during last night’s performance.

After Mrs. Rochester features a brilliant all-female cast, which came about when the casting process couldn’t find male actors to fit the bill – and, while I was initially a bit taken aback when I heard of the decision, in practice, this approach works big time. Who better to create characters envisioned by a female author, in a bio play about that author and her connection to the novel Jane Eyre – especially the mysterious and crazy Mrs. Rochester hidden in the attic – than a group of women? Shouts to Kanika Ambrose (a replacement who came on board 12 days before opening – and was awesome!), Julie Burris, Laura Jabalee, Tabitha Keast, Tina McCulloch, Laine Newman, Jessica Rose and Susan Q. Wilson. Keast and Newman did a lovely job playing the various the male parts, and in addition to the multiple costume changes (mostly jackets for each character) wore compression vests to flatten their female chests. McCulloch was excellent as crazy Bertha, a vulnerable, playful and tortured soul – much like author Jean Rhys (known as Ella in her youth), played with tender passion by Wilson (older) and Rose (younger). And Burris, as Rhys’s mother, went beyond the brutal side of the character and found her pain and humanity.

The action of the play shifts in time and reality – the past, present, memory and scenes from Jane Eyre woven before our eyes – and is supported nicely by the design team, which also included Paul Hardy (lights), Lynda Yearwood (props) and Megan Benjafield (sound), as well as a stand-up stage management team, headed by SM Karen McMichael, with Emily Macnaughton.

Always good to bump into pals when I go to Alumnae – last night was my first time out as a subscriber – and it was great to catch up with Razie Brownstone and Stacy Halloran, who were on box office (with Stacy also running lights last night), as well as bar staff Jayne Patterson and Bev Atkinson (who, with Sandy Schneider – who I also saw last night – did the opening night reception spread last week). I ended up sitting with theatre pals Danielle Capretti, Greg Corkum and Nonnie Griffin; and I bumped into a former theatre school teacher of mine (and several others in the gang), Vrenia Ivonoffski.

Here’s another of my favourite pix from the production – from left to right: Julie Burris (Mother), Tabitha Keast (the Gentleman) and Jessica Rose (Ella). Photo by Dahlia Katz: www.dahliakatz.com

Now that’s sexy… I don’t know whether to be appalled by the man groping that young woman – or aroused because it’s a gal playing that man.

After Mrs. Rochester continues until Friday, October 7 (please note: this show closes on a Friday night instead of a Saturday), with performances Wed – Fri nights at 8 p.m.; and there’s a talkback with the director, cast and design team after the matinée tomorrow (Sun, Oct 2). For more info (and pix), please visit the Alumnae website: http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/1112after.html

Author: life with more cowbell

Arts/culture social bloggerfly. Out & proud. Torontonian. Likes playing with words. A lot.

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