Lisa Moore’s February transformed for the stage in world premiere @ Alumnae Theatre

In semi-darkness, the stage is set with two platforms on either side – the floor panels later being flipped up to create walls. Up centre is a wooden tower from which chairs and various props pieces hang. And a digital clock that reads 2:59. The tower is neat. Clever and interesting – whimsical, even. And also malevolent and looming. The Ocean Ranger oil rig. As the house lights go down and the actors emerge from the wings, we hear the sounds of deep, steady breathing. A ventilator. Yoga exercise. Darth Vader. Breath echoing, as if coming from inside a chamber.

This is the audience’s first glimpse of Lisa Moore’s play February – adapted from her novel and directed for its world premiere on the Alumnae Theatre main stage by Michelle Alexander.

Helen is having a phone conversation with her adult son John, a corporate image consultant who travels the world. Life is good and things are great. And he may have gotten a Canadian woman pregnant in Iceland. He seems callous and detached, a Bluetooth-sporting yuppie douche, and Helen demands to know what he told the woman and what he means to do about the situation. The scene shifts to a phone call from years earlier – 1982, when Helen receives word that her husband Cal perished when a snow storm hit and sunk the Ocean Ranger. The play continues its time shift from past to present and we see Helen and Cal’s courtship and marriage, and John’s early entry into being the man of the house at the age of 10. An imaginative lad and a Star Wars fan, as handy as he is with a light sabre, John is not ready – and comes to fear both commitment and submersion in water.

Told with real, often raw, emotion, February is not all doom and gloom. Resilient and good-humoured, Helen struggles with her grief, a young widow suddenly thrust into single motherhood, coping with Cal’s absence by continuing their relationship, conversing with his ghost. In middle age, she finds the courage to start making changes and she finds herself ready to bring light into her home via renovation – then, unsure but game, investigating online dating and considering the friendly contractor who is transforming her home. Meanwhile, John takes a job at a local oil company and is forced to confront his fears. It is a touching story – and, as in life, hard edges are softened with humour, with insight gained creating light in the darkness.

Director Alexander (who appeared in an Alumnae production of Private Lives several years ago), with assistant director Darwin Lyons, has done a fine job of staging Helen and John’s parallel stories. Working with producer Tabitha Keast (who is also producing a baby, its opening night just a few weeks away), Alexander has assembled an excellent design team to evoke time, place and atmosphere – with set and props by Karen McMichael, lighting by Gabriel Cropley, sound by Megan Benjafield and costumes by Peter DeFreitas.

The outstanding cast features Kathleen Jackson Allamby, Trevor Cartlidge, Justin Skye Conley, John Fray, Victoria Fuller, Lavetta Griffin and Steve Switzman. Griffin (herself a Newfoundlander, who appeared in Our Eliza at New Ideas Festival 2012) is marvelous as Helen. From a spirited young woman in love to an overwhelmed widow in mourning, dealing with the stress of raising four young kids alone, to a middle-aged woman emerging from the darkness of past and ready for a brighter future – a lovely performance. Conley does a nice job of playing John’s many layers, shifting from that scared little boy trying to be brave with his light sabre and blanket cape to a young man pretty much doing the same, minus the sabre and cape. Fray is sexy and fun as living Cal – and a supportive confidant to Helen as his ghost. Nice work from supporting cast members: Cartlidge, who juggles multiple roles, including Cal’s father Dave, and Allamby as Helen’s sister Louise, both offering good-humoured practical and emotional support to Helen in the aftermath of Cal’s death; Fuller (also from Newfoundland) playing dual roles of John’s pregnant, anxious lover Jane, as well as a good-natured, wry-witted waitress at a pub, giving Helen her ear in a scene that is both touching and funny; and Switzman is lovable, sweet and warm as Helen’s contractor Barry. The Newfoundland flavour of the characterizations is strong, assisted by dialect coach John Fleming, who also provided the voiceover work for the production.

I haven’t read the novel, but I did purchase a copy during the fabulous reception (organized by Joanne Nelson and Sandra Schneider) after the show last night. And I have it on good authority that it’s been well-adapted from page to stage by author and first-time playwright Lisa Moore, who was very pleased with the results – as was the assembled audience.

February runs until Saturday, October 6 – with a Q&A talkback with Moore, Alexander et al after the matinée tomorrow (Sun, Sept 23). For info and reservations, visit the Alumnae website: http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/1213feb.html

Word on the Street in Toronto on Sunday, September 23

Knew I was forgetting something. Well, actually, I’m probably forgetting a lot of things. But, as I’ve mentioned before, the lack of clone technology (at least that we know of) forces me to accept my limitations as a lone blogger, shouting out arts, culture and entertainment in the web wilderness.

Word on the Street hits the streets of Toronto this Sunday, September 23  – from 11 a.m. till 6 p.m. at Queen’s Park Circle. For details and programming, check out the Toronto page on the website: http://www.thewordonthestreet.ca/wots/toronto

For info about Word on the Street events in other Canadian cities, check out their home page: http://www.thewordonthestreet.ca/wots/

In the meantime, I’ll be attending the opening night of the world premiere of Lisa Moore’s play February at Alumnae Theatre (main stage) tonight. February runs until October 6 and there will be a talkback with Moore and director Michelle Alexander after the matinée on Sunday, September 23 (which I’ll possibly pop in for after the Toronto AIDS walk – if not, I’ll try to get the scoop from one of the Alumnae folks). I’ll be back with some thoughts on the opening night festivities tomorrow. Also coming soon, a post about singer/songwriter Meghan Morrison’s recent music webcast.

What’cha doing this weekend?

Between the Sheets, February & Gay Play Days – plus Nuit Blanche!

The good times just keep on rollin’, my friends. Here are just a few fabulous arts and culture events happening right now or coming up soon:

Nightwood Theatre’s production of Jordi Mand’s Between the Sheets at Tarragon Theatre (extra space) – started its run last night and runs until Sun, Oct 7. Directed by Kelly Thornton, and featuring actors Susan Coyne and Christine Horne. Get the 411 on this production at Nightwood’s site: http://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/index.php/whats_on/between_the_sheets#tab1

The world premiere of Lisa Moore’s play February at Alumnae Theatre (main stage) – Fri, Sept 21 – Sat, Oct 6 with a Q&A talkback with Moore, director Michelle Alexander, and the cast and creative team after the Sun, Sept 23 matinee. For details and reservations, visit the Alumnae website: http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/1213feb.html

Gay Play Days, a festival of LGBT theatre, at Alumnae Theatre (studio) – Fri, Sept 28 and Sat, Sept 29 at 8 p.m. Featuring short plays: Intervention by Bruce Harrott, The Object of Her Attraction by Tina McCulloch, Stupid Bitch by Durango Miller and Ramblings of a Middle-aged Drag Queen by Darren Stewart-Jones (starring Philip Cairns), as well as a staged reading of Sky Gilbert’s Hamilton Bus Stop, starring Ellen-Ray Hennessy. For the scoop, visit their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/GayPlayDay

Nuit Blanche 2012 (Toronto) lands a bit early this year – starting Sat, Sept 29 at 7 :03 p.m. and running till sunrise on Sun, Sept 30. I’ll be heading out to see Dr. Draw (http://drdraw.ca/) at the Rivoli at 8 p.m. and Lizzie Violet reading horror poetry in Small Audiences at the Theatre Local space at Artscape Wychwood Barns  at 3:30 a.m., among other artists. Check out the program/locations here: http://www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca/

Queen West Art Crawl & Alumnae Theatre mounting world premiere of Lisa Moore’s February

Lots more to do – some great stuff coming up.

This Friday/weekend (September 14-16), head on over to Trinity Bellwoods Park for the annual Queen West Art Crawl – and check out the outdoor show of arts, crafts, food and all that good stuff. Among the artists there this year is photographer Pamela Williams (http://www.interlog.com/~romantic/), who does incredible black and white photography of cemetery monuments. There’s also neighbourhood walks around the Queen West ‘hood and the Parkdale nightcrawl.

For more details, visit their website: http://www.queenwestartcrawl.com/

Also wanted to give an advance shout out to Alumnae Theatre Company’s upcoming world premiere of Lisa Moore’s play February – directed by Michelle Alexander, and featuring actors Kathleen Jackson Allamby, Trevor Cartlidge, Justin Skye Conley, John Fray, Lavetta Griffin and Steve Switzman. February opens Friday, September 21 and runs until Saturday, October 6 – with a Q&A talkback with the director, design team and cast (and possibly the playwright) after the matinée on Sunday, September 23.

For more info and reservations, visit the Alumnae website: http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/1213feb.html

Tonight, I’m off to Glad Day Bookshop to see this month’s installment of The Beautiful and The Damned (scroll down to the September 11 post for details). Back with the scoop on that tomorrow.

Alumnae Theatre’s 2012-13 season & director search

Hey all –

Taking a quiet week this week – mostly to recover from all the recent theatre/music/poetry/art events and catch up on household stuff – but I wanted to give a shout out to Alumnae Theatre Company, for their upcoming season, and remind folks of the director search.

Check out the Alumnae website for the 2012-13 season program, including the gorgeous graphic design work: http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/1213season.html

Even better, the September production of Lisa Moore’s play February will be a world premiere!

The director search for the upcoming season continues. Check out the Alumnae Theatre Company Auditions page for info and details on director applications/interviews: http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/audit.html  Deadline is this Monday, May 21 – so get on that if you’re interested in directing either of these plays.