Nuit Blanche & After Mrs. Rochester talkback

Wow – what an amazing weekend of art and friends.

After seeing After Mrs. Rochester on Friday night and having a couple of pints with some of the cast and crew at Betty’s, I pondered dropping by the talkback after the matinée on Sunday – and I did!

But, first, Saturday night/Sunday morning’s Nuit Blanche 2011. It was the first Nuit Blanche where I got to roam about and see stuff (the first few, I was working at Alumnae and/or doing a show and last year, I had to bail as I got sick with a cold). This year, I ventured out with my pal Lizzie Violet – and I just read her post about our evening. Since her thoughts pretty much echo mine, and I couldn’t have said it better myself, here’s what she had to say:

As for Sunday – well, the rest of Sunday, since it was already Sunday when I went to bed after Nuit Blanche – I met Alum pal Ellen Green for a great brunch and catch-up at 7 West Cafe.

After brunch, I wandered down Yonge Street, doing some errands along the way – by then it had stopped raining but it was chilly – and ended up back at Alumnae Theatre, where Front of House Manager for the day Margaret (aka “The Costumator”) Spence greeted me and told me that the house had just gone in for Act 2, and I could go in if I wanted.

So I did. Act 2 of After Mrs. Rochester is the best part of the play script-wise (Act 1 is a lot of exposition) – it’s the meat and bones of the play. And it gave me another opportunity to see some other pals in action: Tina McCulloch’s excellent performance as Bertha, as well as Tabitha Keast’s very sexy Ford Maddox Ford (damn, she looks good in that brown suit!), who was once of Rhys’s lovers, and Julie Burris as Ford’s lovely wife Stella.

The talkback sessions at Alumnae are always a treat – and it was a good-sized and responsive house on Sunday (whereas Friday was a small but very responsive gang) – and the cast got a standing ovation that lasted through two curtain calls. It also gave me the opportunity to say “hey” to director Laura Roald and tell her how awesome this production is. Oh – and I neglected to mention Laura’s assistant director in my previous post: Taryn Jorgenson.

Joining Laura Roald and the cast onstage were co-producer/sound op PJ Hammond and sound designer Megan Benjafield. The question of the all-female cast came up early on, and Roald talked about circumstantial necessity turned creative decision-making (and re-working most of her pre-production plans for the show) – as they couldn’t find suitable, available male actors. Since the play is about a female author – and characters she either connects with or creates, fictional or otherwise – all the characters in the play are parts of Jean Rhys. So the new vision came out of a happy accident – crisis an opportunity towards a new path. Extremely articulate – and one hell of a smart cookie – Roald also mentioned that, because the male roles were now being played by women, the various sex scenes throughout the play now have less of a shock impact and become moments the audience need to process; and with the various layers of time, space, and characters fictitious and non-fictitious, there is a lot to process. She also remarked how the revised production also “created an incredible company of women” and, indeed, even much of the production crew were women. Yay, estrogen!

Actor Susan Q. Wilson (who plays the older Rhys) talked about gaining insight into character – Rhys being a raging alcoholic at that point, and likely self-medicating an undiagnosed mental illness – and found Rhys’s letters particularly helpful, noting how the tenor and energy of the author’s words changed over time.

Rhys wrote autobiographically, and her childhood in a post-colonial Caribbean had a great impact on her life, particularly regarding her sense of identity – a child of a family from the white ruling class who no longer belonged to that class, who also did not belong among the former indigenous slaves who were now the family’s paid servants. Megan Benjafield described how this loss of identity informed the sound design – the discord of the “spooky” strings that hummed throughout the play during specific moments.

The subject of playwright Polly Teale came up when an audience member asked about the history of the play. Like Rhys, Teale was fascinated by the Brontes – and used text from Jane Eyre and from Rhys’s works in the play, including Wide Sargasso Sea and short stories.

Go see this play. Once you get past the exposition (mostly in Act 1), it is a hauntingly beautiful and brutal look at a creative process: the creation of the novel Wide Sargasso Sea.

Published by life with more cowbell

Multidisciplinary storyteller. Out & proud. Torontonian. Likes playing with words. A lot.

2 thoughts on “Nuit Blanche & After Mrs. Rochester talkback

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