Valentines through the ages & the private face of grief in Shotgun Juliet’s intimate, tender Jewel

Pip Dwyer in Jewel. Photo by Jackie Smulan.

 

Shotgun Juliet opened its production of Joan MacLeod’s Jewel, directed by Matthew Eger, to a packed house at Red Sandcastle Theatre last night.

Jewel was inspired by the sinking of the Ocean Ranger oil rig off the coast of Newfoundland during a Valentine’s Day storm on the Atlantic on February 15, 1982, a national tragedy that saw 84 lives lost. The two-year Canadian Royal Commission that followed found numerous design and safety flaws, as well as ineffective inspection and regulation, and subsequently made a number of recommendations to the oil and gas industry, as well as the federal government. Lawsuits were settled out of court in a $20-million package, duly noted in the program notes as “peanuts for oil companies.”

Jewel puts a deeply personal face on this tragedy. Set in the Peace River Valley on Valentine’s Day 1985, three years after the accident, we’re in Marjorie’s (Pip Dwyer) mobile home. Dressed in a flannel nighty, long johns, boots and a heavy knit jacket, and holding a bucket of milk, we find her standing in her kitchen, starring a million miles away. Remembering.

She recounts Valentine’s Days over the years, a personal history of romance that is both touching and hilariously funny. Especially endearing is the unfolding romance with Harry, who proposed to her – a city girl from Calgary – in a tent in Northern Alberta. And then Valentine’s Day 1982, when Harry was one of the men working on the Ocean Ranger and the RCMP arrived on her doorstep. Listening to country music and local messages on the radio, and occasionally hollering at the dog to stay outside, she shares homemade beer and speaks to Harry throughout – and the love comes through. The heartache. The loss. The disbelief. The anger. The trying to move on.

Dwyer gives a luminous, compelling performance in this emotional, haunting solo show. Radiating that classic, independent Prairie girl can-do attitude, her Marjorie is cheeky, funny and straight-talking – and also deeply vulnerable. Fiercely and romantically committed to her marriage, Marjorie’s still wearing her wedding ring and speaking with the ghost of her love three years after he’s gone. The reason for this loss is infuriating – and we share her disbelief and anger, the intimate staging putting us in that mobile home kitchen with her. And that private expression of love, loss and grief is both beautiful and heartbreaking to watch.

With shouts to John Dwyer, who supplied his voice-over talents as the affable local Radio Host. And to the design team, including Jackie Smulan, Blair Purdy and the company for the homey, detailed kitchen set, and the equally warming music and evocative atmospheric sound.

Valentines through the ages and the private face of grief in Shotgun Juliet’s intimate, tender Jewel.

Jewel continues at Red Sandcastle Theatre till February 14, with evening performances at 8pm and a matinee on February 11 at 2pm; advance tickets available online. It’s an intimate space and a short run, so advance booking is strongly recommended.

 

Advertisements

Powerful, moving & beautifully raw storytelling in I Am Marguerite

Marguerite 1
Daniela Pagliarello & Christopher Oszwald in I Am Marguerite – photo by Bruce Peters

In 1542, banished from a French ship by a heartless, domineering brother, Marguerite de Roberval is set afloat on a skiff towards a remote island off the north coast of Newfoundland. With her are her faithful nurse and her lover Eugene. Left with scant provisions and in fear of never seeing home or loved ones again, they land on the Isle of Demons with the prospect of perishing in the face of cold, harsh winters and predatory wildlife.

This is the story, a little-known piece of Canadian history, brought to life on stage in an hour-long, emotionally and psychologically packed play by Shirley Barrie. This is I Am Marguerite, directed by Molly Thom – and it opened to a packed house at Alumnae Theatre last night.

The storytelling is taut and compelling, shifting in and out of memory and hallucination, and honed over the past decade and after having taken on various forms – from play to opera libretto back to play again – and executed by an excellent cast. As Marguerite, Daniela Pagliarello does a remarkable job of driving the story, not to mention a lovely job of capturing the youthful passion, lust for life, curiosity and rebellious streak of the young French noblewoman. Teetering on the edge of madness, struggling with physical, emotional and mental hardship, she vacillates between a ferocious fight for survival and a desperate surrender to the memories and faces that haunt her in her loneliness. And, like Marguerite, we often find ourselves wondering if the faces are real or imagined ghosts from her past.

Marguerite 2
Top: Chris Coculuzzi, Heli Kivilaht & Sara Price. Bottom: Daniela Pagliarello & Christopher Oszwald – photo by Bruce Peters

Joining Pagliarello is an outstanding supporting cast. As Marguerite’s ambitious, older brother Jean-François, Chris Coculuzzi gives us a strong performance of a man as driven and strong-willed as his younger sister, but with a dark, cruel edge. Proud, controlling and manipulative, he is not above using those closest to him as a means to his own ends. Heli Kivilaht is a delight as Marguerite’s former nurse and present companion Damienne, a loving, nurturing and supportive soul with an irreverent, no-nonsense sensibility. Sara Price brings layers of warmth and genuine goodness to the otherwise imperious and proper Queen of Navarre. As Marguerite’s lover Eugene, Christopher Oszwald gives us a man of quiet strength, a romantic, and a lover of music and beauty who is willing to risk it all for the woman he loves. And the love and loyalty of Eugene and Damienne’s choice to be banished with Marguerite make subsequent events all the more heartbreaking.

With big shouts to a most excellent design team. Marysia Bucholc has created a magnificent, abstract set design – the layers and multi-dimensional, almost sculptural, landscape sharp and rippling outward, with eerie, weeping trees; and props by Razie Brownstone – the rocks, bones and rustic supply trunk – dress an otherwise barren space. The characters are honed and brought to brilliant living colour with stunning period costumes by Peter DeFreitas and Toni Hanson. Angus Barlow’s evocative sound design features haunting atmospheric composition by James Langevin-Frieson (who composed theme music for Marguerite, played at the beginning and the end of the play), as well as period dance and lute music, going from dulcet to frenetic as the music mirrors the fragility of Marguerite’s mind.

I Am Marguerite is a powerful, moving and beautifully raw piece of storytelling.

I Am Marguerite runs on the Alumnae Theatre mainstage until April 25, featuring a talkback after the matinée on April 19. Advance tickets available online or at the box office an hour before curtain time (cash only).

Here’s a little teaser by way of the show trailer. Go see this.

Department of Corrections: An earlier version of this post neglected to mention that the original music included in Angus Barlow’s sound design was composed by James Langevin-Frieson. This has since been corrected.

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