Lost music dreams & turbulent family reunion in Rare Day Projects’ bittersweet, poignant, funny A Very Different Place

Clockwise, from top left: Jeanette Dagger, Rosemary Doyle & Alexzander McLarry. Photo by Deborah Ann Frankel.


You can’t go home again, but maybe you can meet where you are. Rare Day Projects presents Carol Libman’s drama about lost dreams and family reunion, A Very Different Place, directed by Robin Haggerty and opening last night at Red Sandcastle Theatre. This world premiere began as a short play in Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival, later emerging at Big Ideas and Next Stage readings before reaching its current form at Red Sandcastle.

Teri (Rosemary Doyle) left home almost 20 years ago to pursue a career as a jazz singer with a talented man she loved—and that’s not all she left behind. Her mother Marge (Jeanette Dagger) was left to raise her son Mike (Alexzander McLarry). After a chance meeting in a Calgary hospital, where Teri now works as a nurse, Mike hatches a plan for a family reunion between his mother and grandmother at their home in Toronto—a plan that gets fast-tracked when Marge falls and breaks her hip. He needs to get back to work on an oil rig out west in a few days, and Marge—despite protestations to the contrary—needs assistance at home while she recovers and gets physiotherapy. Enter Teri, and the mother/daughter battle begins!

Old wounds, misunderstandings, resentments and suspicions emerge as Teri and Marge struggle through past and current conflicts—and try to make peace for Mike’s sake. Mike finds himself in the middle of the fray, playing peacemaker when all he wanted was to get his family back together. And Teri’s desperately trying to stay sober through the stress of this homecoming; attending AA meetings, where she addresses us as fellow Friends of Bill.

Nicely staged, with a turbulent musical prologue and snippets of classical piano favourites featured throughout (expertly played by Dagger) and a touching mother/daughter duet on “Summertime” (with Doyle shining on the vocals), A Very Different Place is bookended with music and moments of Teri’s AA sharing.

Lovely work from the cast in this touching, often sharply funny, three-hander—featuring some especially moving two-hander scenes between mother and daughter, and mother and son. Dagger’s Marge is a tough but amiable old gal with a decided stubborn, independent streak and an unbreakable determination to do what’s best, even if it costs her. Doyle’s Teri is a troubled adult child struggling to reconcile past and future choices, wobbling on the edge of petulant teen in the face of family conflict. Equally firm in her pursuit of independence—she comes by it honestly—like Marge, who once dreamed of being a concert pianist, Teri feels the sting of lost music career dreams and the necessity of setting herself on a new path in order to survive. McLarry does a great job as the glue trying to hold this family together as Mike navigates his own internal conflicts; like Marge and Teri, his life took an unexpected turn when he was forced to go west to find work. Setting up this family reunion as much for himself as for his grandmother and mother, Mike finds himself playing adult/referee when, deep down, he wants to feel a kid’s experience of love and family.

With shouts to SM/Technical Director Deborah Ann Frankel for juggling multiple tasks in the booth.

A Very Different Place continues at Red Sandcastle until May 13, with evening performances at 8 pm May 8 to 12; and matinees at 2 pm on May 10, 12 and 13. Tickets available at the door, by calling the Box Office at 416-845-9411 or going online.



Perception, alternate & artificial realities, & memories masked in New Ideas Week Three program

NIF2014-banner-1024x725Another exceptionally strong program of short plays at Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival (NIF) this week – Week Three, the final week of the fest.

Here’s what’s on the menu for Week Three:

Polish Your Pole, performed by Brenda Somers, is a hilariously funny, innuendo-filled pre-show piece in the upper lobby, featuring – you guessed it – what remains of the Firehall No. 4 fire pole across from the box office. Somers is brilliant in this very short piece, an added big fun element of the fest with one final performance tonight at 7:30 p.m. Always thought that pole was going underutilized. And it now has a name.

Airport Tale, by Carol Libman and directed by Carys Lewis, has a travelling senior citizen getting some life advice from an unlikely source when she’s detained at the airport. Jane Carnwath is a delight as the feisty, no nonsense Evalina Appelgee, and Andy Perun is sweet as the affable, flummoxed young airport bureaucrat Roger.

Would You Do It Again?, by Rebecca Grace and directed by Sandra Banman, is a futuristic peek at options for dealing with broken marriages as Hank and Wanda take some extreme measures to save theirs via an artificial intelligence unit named Chip. The Controller fills us in on the eternal sunshine of the forgetful mind as the play unfolds. Nice work by a very strong ensemble cast: Tim McConnell gives workaholic lawyer Hank some nice complex layers of tenderness and romance; and Sara Price does a lovely job of navigating Wanda’s inner conflict and sense of loss. Patrick Murray is deliciously campy and arrogant as the Controller, and Youness Tahiri is charmingly cocky and handsome as the Hank-infused Chip. What do you purge, and what do you keep or alter?

Simprov, by Laurence Klavan and directed by Stephanie Williams, finds Marjorie searching for escape in an artificial reality, which she may direct for a limited time and at significant financial cost. Dana Thody brings a great sense of desperate, energized purpose to Marjorie; and Buddy Black gives her boyfriend Alan a complex combination of pain, anger and drive to save her. Loriel Medynski and director Williams, who stepped in as a replacement actor, were marvelous as the two artificial reality actors – spunky, funny and sexy. How far will we go to escape our own lives?

Pit Sublime, by Alexandra Watt Simpson and directed by Pamela Redfern, is a grown-up fairy tale of withdrawal and denial, and put me in mind of the Paper Bag Princess through the looking glass. Charlotte is the Queen of vermin, barricaded in her world of trash, rhymes and personal baggage. Storming the battlements is Felix, a fierce young friend who must fight to break through Charlotte’s barriers. Rebecca Liddiard’s Charlotte is a remarkable, whirling ball of energy, engaging and drawing us in, even as she tries to push us away. (My pal Kerri MacDonald took on the role of her secretary at one point after she requested a volunteer from the audience.) And Andrew Gaunce’s Felix is wonderfully nerdy, loyal and relentless in his cause to save his friend from herself. Both handle the language with mercurial skill. Extremely entertaining, touching – and even educational – this play would also work very well with a young adult audience.

Perception, alternate and artificial realities, memories buried and secrets masked – the NIF Week Three program continues until tomorrow (Mar 30), with two performances today and one tomorrow.

In the meantime, the Week Three reading of Rotating Thunderstorm, by Taylor Marie Graham and directed by Jill Harper, goes up at noon today.

Reservations are strongly recommended as this is a popular festival. Call 416-364-4170 or visit the Tickets page on the Alumnae website.