Liberty at any cost – hardened life choices in Toronto Irish Players’ Big Maggie

bigmaggie1Saw another marvelous Toronto Irish Players (TIP) production yesterday afternoon – this time, John B. Keane’s Big Maggie, directed by Harvey Levkoe, on now at Alumnae Theatre.

Big Maggie is set in 1960s rural Ireland, where recently widowed Maggie Polpin (Janice Hansen) is delighted at her newfound freedom from a philandering lout of a husband – and doesn’t care who knows it. Her four young adult children, each in various stages of grief, are disappointed when mum takes control of the family farm and general store, not receiving their expected share of the business – and are forced into choosing her way or the highway. For Maggie, her singular goal is to live free and secure, with no one to answer to or for but herself. And she is not above making some ruthless, calculated choices to get there.

Levkoe has a fine cast for Big Maggie, with some particular stand-outs. Janice Hansen gives an outstanding performance as Maggie, the complex family matriarch, full of anger, ambition, desire and unstoppable drive. Maggie has a sharp wit and can be darkly funny, but is also so very lonely – and by choice. Lovely turns from the actors playing the Polpin kids: Ben Clifford as the oldest brother Maurice, struggling to come to a compromise with his mother so he can have a life of his own; Kyrah Harder’s Gert, the youngest daughter and “good girl” of the family, dreams still intact, and longing for her mother’s love and approval; Conor Murphy as the impetuous firebrand youngest brother Mick; and Kate Sheridan as “bad girl” Katie, strong-willed and driven, but no match for her mother. Stephen Flett was a delight, providing comic relief as Byrne, the cemetery monument sculptor and hopeful bachelor. Damien Gulde was very effective as the charming playboy travelling sales rep Teddy; and Rebecca Liddiard gave a strong, layered performance as Maurice’s sweetheart, balancing the introvert/extrovert and mild/fierce sides of Mary.

Shouts to designer Wayne Cardinalli, and the construction and dressing teams, for a beautifully rendered, detailed and practical set that drew us into the Polpin’s world.

Liberty at any cost. In the end, Maggie, with her life-hardened choices, is as much a victim of time, place and circumstance as those around her are victims of her premeditated cruelty – especially her children.

Big Maggie continues its run on the Alumnae Theatre mainstage – until March 8. I strongly recommend you reserve in advance – this past weekend’s performances were sold out.

In the meantime, check out the Big Maggie backstage goings-on via interviews and production photos on the TIP blog, by writer/journalist/blogger Jennifer Hough.

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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/