A trip through time with family, country & loss of innocence in the charming, poignant Cavalcade

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Lillian Scriven & Michael Ricci as Jane & Robert Marryot in Cavalcade – photos by Andrew Oxenham

George Brown Theatre opened its 2016-17 season last night at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (located in Toronto’s Distillery District) with Nöel Coward’s Cavalcade, directed by A.D. James Simon, with musical direction by J. Rigzin Tute and choreography by Robert McCollum.

Cavalcade follows the lives of two intertwined families, the Marryots and their servants the Bridges, as they live through significant historical events, including the Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic and WWI. From New Year’s Eve 1899 to the same night in 1929 and into New Year’s day 1930, the story is told through scenes of daily life and musical numbers.

The Cavalcade ensemble is comprised of George Brown Theatre School’s third year graduating class of 2017 (in alphabetical order): Gabriella Albino, Caroline Bell, Michael Boyce, Justine Christensen, Emily Cully, Genevieve DeGraves, Seamus Dillon-Easton, Kayla Farris, Jocelyn Feltham, Kyrah Harder, Patrick Horan, Chase Jeffels, Evan MacKenzie, Cora Matheson, Tymika McKenzie-Clunis, Lucy Meanwell, Thomas Nyhuus, Lucas Penner, Michael Ricci, Jake Runeckles, Lillian Scriven, Morgan St. Onge and Parmida Vand.

As Jane Marryot, Scriven anchors the show with a lovely combination of game stiff upper lip and moving emotional response to events that impact her family and country. And we see the kids grow up and move through various life milestones: the Marryots’ sons Edward (the dutiful elder son, played with a twinkle in the eye by Nyhuus) and Joseph (the younger, impetuous son, played with Puckish charm by MacKenzie), and the Bridges’ daughter Fanny (DeGraves, who brings a lovely arc from the wide-eyed adorable child to the slinky nightclub performer).

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Jake Runeckles, Lucas Penner & Michael Boyce performing by the seaside

There are some great moments of comic relief, notably at a night at the theatre in a play within the play called Mirabelle, featuring some fine musical antics from Matheson, Penner, Albino and Jeffels (featuring stand-out vocals from Matheson and Albino); and some seaside entertainment from Boyce, Penner (who also plays a mean ukulele) and Runeckles (who also supplies piano accompaniment throughout and does a delightful tap dance break). Musical moments are capped off by a lovely rendition of Coward’s “Twentieth Century Blues” by DeGraves in a wistful and world-weary welcome to 1930, leading into a chaotic epilogue that fast-forwards through the remainder of an astoundingly volatile, wondrous and quixotic century.

As we travel through time in Britain’s history, from the Victorian to the Edwardian age – and a fast-forward Epilogue finale through the remainder 20th century – we see how the major events of the age test her people’s resilience and fortitude. Perhaps more importantly, there’s a loss of innocence; the sometimes violent changes that occur as the world grows into more of a global village, and the ever quickening pace of life changes people irrevocably. And one can’t help but look back with fondness on – what looks like from the present point of view – a simpler, gentler time.

With shouts to set and costume designer Brandon Kleiman, especially for the stunning bejeweled purple frocks are stunning; lighting designer Siobhan Sleath for some lovely atmospheric effects; and stage manager Debbie Read for holding it all together.

A trip through time with family, country and loss of innocence in the charming, poignant Cavalcade.

Cavalcade runs at the Young Centre in the Tank House Theatre space until Nov 19; get your advance tix online or by calling the box office at 416-866-8666. It’s a great chance to see some exciting emerging talent before they head out into their careers.

You can also keep up with George Brown Theatre’s class of 2017 on Twitter.

Falling – first rehearsals

As some of you know, I auditioned for Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival 2013 and, after being called back to read for two plays, was cast in the Week One reading of Jamie Johnson’s play Falling, directed by Ed Rosing.

I don’t want to give too much away – since I dislike spoilers and want you to come see for yourselves – but I can tell you that Falling is a mother/daughter drama, beautifully written, and presented through personal storytelling and fairy tale. The daughter (Constance) is presented at four different ages, played by four different actors, and each contributes pieces of memory – vital moments from her life at that age – in a desperate effort to reconnect with her estranged mother Lou. I play the oldest version of Constance, at 48 years old.

Last night, we just finished the second of our first two rehearsals – the first on Friday night was a series of one-one-on meetings with Ed and assistant director/stage manager Jake Simpkins to discuss character specifics, as well as the overall rhythm and tone of the play. The entire cast was out last night for the first read-through: Ruth Miller (Lou), me (Constance, at 48), Kristen Scott (Consti, at 30), Cora Matheson (Con, at 18) and Carys Lewis (Connie, at 12). We were joined by Jamie, as well as sound designer Rick Jones, who is putting together some lovely background music for the fairy tale portions of the reading. BTW: Jake schleps in from Windsor to work with us and, luckily, he drives – though we were a bit concerned about the driving conditions in last night’s weather.

It is both interesting and complex playing one version of the same character. The older the version of Constance, the more autobiographical knowledge she has – and we discussed how some of us would know things our younger selves wouldn’t, and how each older Constance had the opportunity to be reminded of forgotten details by a younger self. Personally, I’ve been fascinated by those little tricks of memory, and how we sometimes need to rely on journals or others to fill in forgotten details – positive or negative. How is the current version of us different from younger versions? Our similarities can be even more interesting. What about our younger self do we miss, want back? What changes do we embrace?

Another big topic that came up was things hidden and things revealed. Lou is hearing some familiar stories of her daughter’s life – but is unaware of the whole story. The same goes for Constance regarding her mother’s experience. And, in the case of Consti and Constance, mother and daughter are all but strangers. As our characters, we’re exploring: What do we know? How does what we’re hearing differ from what we thought we knew? What are we hearing for the first time?

In a combination reminiscent of the play Albertine in Five Times and the movie Terms of Endearment, Falling combines the complexity of multiple versions of the same character with the complications of the mother/daughter dynamic – with the backdrop of domestic violence in a rural setting.  Along with the languid fairy tale storytelling , the imagery is lovely, magical and haunting: the moon, the night, the apple tree. And, while Lou’s and Constance’s lives are far from happy ever after, it is Lou’s fairy tale storytelling that comforts and binds them together – and becomes a possible path to reunion and forgiveness.

Falling will be presented as a reading, with one performance only, on Saturday, March 9 at noon in the Alumnae Theatre Studio. New Ideas Festival readings are pay-what-you-can. For full program details and reservations, please visit the Alumnae Theatre website: http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/