HOREJDA COMMANDS CLASSIC THEATRE STAGE: In Gripping Mystery Thriller

Lauren Horejda’s character Jan ponders her next move as she struggles to survive in the critically acclaimed Classic Theatre Festival production of I’ll Be Back Before Midnight, which plays in Perth until September 10 at 54 Beckwith Street East. Tickets at classictheatre.ca or 1-877-283-1283. (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

A performer with frequent film and television appearances on shows such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Nikita, Beauty & The Beast, and The Fourth Plague has been commanding the Classic Theatre Festival stage as a woman fighting for her very survival in the mystery thriller I’ll Be Back Before Midnight, which plays until September 10 at 54 Beckwith Street East in Perth.

Born and raised in Saskatchewan – “they call it the land of living skies for good reason and believe me, it more than lives up to its name,” she says – Lauren Horejda plays the role of Jan, a woman who, recovering from a nervous breakdown, has been brought to a spooky old country farmhouse by her sometimes less than sensitive husband, Greg (Lindsay Robinson). What follows is much like a Hitchcock film, a combination of humour and horror in which the esteemed Capital Critics Circle says Horejda “delivers a fine multi-faceted characterization that balances fragility and determination.”

Horejda recalls her first performance was as an angel in a Christmas pageant, and while she cannot say exactly what drew her to acting, “I can say it always felt right where I was supposed to be.” After completing an honours undergraduate degree, she studied at some of the world’s leading theatrical training academies, including the UK’s Bristol Old Vic and Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Among some of her favourite roles along the way have been playing Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler (Horejda is a major Ibsen fan) and Mercutio in The Deliverance of Romeo and Juliet. She’s also picked up best acting nominations two years in a row from My Entertainment World for her performances in Hamlet and The Changeling.

Playing Jan in I’ll Be Back before Midnight is a demanding role, as she is onstage for almost the whole show in an experience that many audience members describe as akin to a rollercoaster ride, providing thrills followed by anticipation and constant building of tension. Horejda says the role actually requires “decompression over preparation once the lights are dark and the audience has gone home. Jan is such a vessel of love and hope within the play. She wants nothing but the best and to take care of those she cares about, but she is put through so much within the play. So, it’s mostly checking in with myself and shedding the after-effects of Jan and everything that she has to go through that needs the most attention – shaking it off.”

Horejda is fond of Jan’s “unshakeable faith in those that she loves. It’s incredibly admirable, especially living in a world where people write each other off so frequently over so little.”

The Toronto-based actor says she’s loved her time in Perth this summer. “It’s been a beautiful place to come and relax and work on this fabulous play with a lovely and warm cast, a brilliant production team, and a wonderfully talented, thoughtful and insightful director. It’s been such fantastic experience for me to ride this ride with these beautiful souls.”

Those wishing to catch the final performances of I’ll Be Back before Midnight (playing Tuesday to Sunday at 2 pm, with 8 pm shows Wednesday and Saturday at 8 pm) can get tickets at 1-877-283-1283 or ticketsplease.ca

GAMBLES’ MYSTERIOUS CHARACTER: Ignites Classic Theatre’s Mystery Thriller

Chandel Gambles likens her character Laura to a fascinating boa constrictor in the rollercoaster of a ride that’s I’ll be Back Before Midnight at Perth’s Classic Theatre Festival until September 10. (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

In the Classic Theatre Festival production of the mystery thriller I’ll Be Back before Midnight, running at 54 Beckwith Street East in Perth until September 10, Toronto-based performer Chandel Gambles takes on the role of Laura, a sister-in-law whose unexpected appearance at a spooky old farmhouse sets off a chain of events that leads to the show’s stunning conclusion.

The production has garnered strong audience response, while the Capital Critics Circle writes that  “together, director, crew and the well-integrated cast deliver a funny and even sometimes scary production that keeps audiences laughing and gasping.”

Audiences may not be sure what to make of Gambles’ character when she first appears. “Laura is a very interesting character because although she comes across as a powerhouse of a woman, in control of all aspects of her life, she is also incredibly vulnerable,” Gambles says. “Every character seeks love. It is a central need that drives the character to be accepted and, eventually, happy. When we get to see the hidden, and vulnerable moments of Laura, we are confronted with the reality that she too has an internal battle going on, just like everyone watching. Maybe we don’t agree with all of her choices, but those moments help us understand why she is making them.”

Gambles says she enjoys the role because Laura’s “mercurial personality keeps you on your toes, wondering what she could do at any turn. It’s a bit like having a pet boa constrictor in the room. It is magnificent to consider her switching from a slithering smoothness to a powerful attacking strike at any moment, depending on if she’s feeling threatened or sensuous at that time.  She could be resting, or about to slither across the room and squeeze all the power out of her opposition, before comfortably coiling herself across her environment. That behaviour is natural in a snake, and equally natural in her.”

Like many a performer, Gambles’ fascination with the theatre springs from an early age, playing dress-up with a wardrobe full of costumes. At the age of 8, she won her first role in a community children’s theatre production of Tom Sawyer.  “The excitement of making people laugh, cry, and gasp was such a delight that from that first live production, that I became utterly hooked by the acting bug!”

Gambles received formal theatre training at the University of Guelph in a program designed to focus on Canadian theatre “and developing new works that speak to our unique cultural experiences.” She focused on acting and directing, as well as physical theatre. “I found it exciting to work with masks and see how live actors could use silence, space, and movement to fill the story before a single word is spoken. Physical theatre seems to be the realm where the spoken word and the dancer’s body collide and it’s a fascinating area to explore.”

That background helped her score her first professional role at Ottawa Odyssey Theatre’s production of The Financier. “The show looked like a beautifully balanced dance beneath the main story, held by dynamic characters that I fell in love with every night,” she recalls. “It was an utter gift to have been brought into the professional masked theatre world with such a memorable production.

Equally adept at theatre and television and film work, Gambles says theatre offers the “thrill of the unknown moment. In the theatre, anything can happen, and no two shows will ever be the same. The actors feed off the energies of the audience finding a rhythm to match their pace, while driving the story along to match the viewer’s wonder and horror. There is a thrill in the possibility of a free, unknown element, which could step off the stage at any moment and suddenly shift the show from the presentational to the dangerously intimate and unexpected interaction.”

A busy performer, Gambles has also spent the past four years teaching theatre in high schools across Ontario and Quebec, singing and entertaining on cruise ships in Australia, organizing charity financial aid for professional artists in extreme emergencies across Canada, managing tours for children’s theatres, and administering special events for a large Opera company.

For now, though, she remains intensely focused on a show that’s described as kin to a rollercoaster ride. “I hope audiences leave this show with a lot of laughter, a few nervous twitches, and a couple of lingering questions. The excitement of this thriller lies in the fact that you don’t know who is out to stir up trouble, how they’ll do it, and when it will happen. Does anyone deserve what happens to them? Was anyone justified in their actions? Or reactions? And was it fair? I’d be quite pleased to hear audiences say that they have mixed feelings about everything they witnessed and how the end played out…because isn’t that what make rollercoasters so much fun?”

I’ll Be Back Before Midnight, which has been drawing viewers aged 9 to 95, runs Tues. to Sun., at 2 pm, with 8 pm shows Wed. & Sat. Tickets at www.ticketsplease.ca or 1-877-283-1283.

LOVE’S QUIRKY FARMER: Anchors Mystery Thriller at Classic Theatre

Alastair Love plays the quirky farmer George in the spellbinding mystery thriller I’ll Be Back Before Midnight, which plays at the Classic Theatre Festival at 54 Beckwith Street East in Perth until September 10. (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

Following a star turn in the Classic Theatre Festival’s award-winning production of Arms and the Man, Toronto actor Alastair Love has returned to Perth to play the role of a mysterious farmer in the “comedy-thriller,” I’ll Be Back Before Midnight, the annual nail-biter that plays at the Festival’s mainstage until September 10 at 54 Beckwith Street East.

I’ll Be Back before Midnight, the most produced play in Canadian history, is an Alfred Hitchcock-styled psychological thriller about a young Toronto couple who leave the big city to get away from it all, only to encounter weird happenings in their rented spooky old country farmhouse. Penned by prolific Canadian writer Peter Colley, who also recently opened a new musical about the life of Terry Fox, Marathon of Hope, it combines the spine-tingling building of tension and quirky humour of a Hitchcock film.

Anyone who has ever appreciated the unexpected chill from listening to a ghost tale around the campfire will enjoy the compelling tale in which not everything is as it first seems. Questions immediately arise: who can be trusted as a friend, and have those you think you know best been putting on a game face while working behind your back to undermine your stability?

In the middle of it all is Love’s portrayal of George, a quirky fellow whose dime-store philosophies and mistrust of city slickers combine to create a curiously endearing character whose decisions will play a key role as the mystery builds to a stunning conclusion. For the gravelly-voiced Love, every moment on the stage is one he seizes with profound passion, a professional performer still inspired by his very first appearance on the stage as a six-year-old in a production of The Muffin Man.

“I always remember and get revisited every time I am on stage by that special feeling of connection in a special place with the other actors, and there’s really nothing else like it that I know of,” Love says. That connection with his fellow performers in Midnight – Lauren Horejda, Lindsay Robinson, and Chandel Gambles – creates a tight ensemble whose work has been applauded by sell-out houses as well as theatre reviewers alike.

Love originally hails from Sarnia, where his family helped found a major music theatre company that staged three large-scale musicals a year, often with casts of up to 80 community members. While he held down a day job in the area’s oil industry, his dream was always to pursue a professional acting career, and so after 15 years of 12-hour shifts, he took the bold step of moving to Toronto.

His former workmates were incredulous that he would give up the security of steady pay and a pension for a life in the theatre, but it’s what Love wanted more than anything. He recalls a “local boy does good” interview in which, from Toronto, he told his Sarnia hometown newspaper that working in the oil industry was like working in the mines, “which took people in young and spit them out old with a guaranteed retirement.”

Despite the challenges, Love says the journey has been worth it, especially when he can spend his summers in Perth, a town he loves for its community spirit and friendly welcome.

Tickets to see I’ll Be Back Before Midnight, a family-friendly show that has welcomed audience members aged 9 to 94, are available at ticketsplease.ca or 1-877-283-1283.

AWARD-WINNING ROBINSON: Returns for Classic Theatre’s Annual Mystery Thriller

Lindsay Robinson, seen in last year’s Arms and the Man as the vainglorious soldier Sergius, returns to the Classic Theatre Festival in Perth to star in the mystery-thriller I’ll Be Back Before Midnight, which opens August 18 at 54 Beckwith Street East and runs until September 10. (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

If living life passionately is a sign of success, then Lindsay Robinson is a successful person.  Robinson is currently in Perth to play the role of an archeologist in the “comedy-thriller” I’ll Be Back before Midnight, the annual nail-biter that opens at the Classic Theatre Festival’s mainstage August 18 at 54 Beckwith Street East.

I’ll Be Back before Midnight, the most produced play in Canadian history, is an Alfred Hitchcock-styled psychological thriller about a young Toronto couple who leave the big city to get away from it all, only to encounter weird happenings in the spooky old country farmhouse they decide to rent. Penned by prolific Canadian writer Peter Colley, who also recently opened a new musical about the life of Terry Fox, Marathon of Hope, it combines the spine-tingling building of tension and quirky humour of a Hitchcock film.

For Robinson, it represents another in a long series of roles that have won him award nominations from the likes of Broadway World, Spirit of the Industry Awards, and the Calgary Theatre Alliance. His star turn in the comedy Arms and the Man last year at the Classic Theatre Festival helped snag that show a Best Production nomination from the Capital Critics Circle.

Robinson is a multi-talented individual who, in addition to being a skilled performer, personal trainer, singer-songwriter, and video producer, is also studying to become a medical physician. In a twist on the line “is there a doctor in the house?” Robinson recently provided medical assistance to a distressed theatre patron at BC’s Blue Ridge Repertory Theatre.

“I have a passion for helping people, and I think a combined career as an actor and emergency room doctor allows me that chance,” says Robinson, who has also appeared in Perth as the philandering central character in Neil Simon’s debut Broadway comedy Come Blow Your Horn.

Since 2007, the Vancouver Island born-and-raised Robinson has been working non-stop in professional theatre, television, and film, from recent spots on the Food Network’s Giving You the Business and a pilot for the E1 Network called Mergers and Acquisitions to commercials for Samsung and Sears and a new web series called Sweet Jayne. Robinson eagerly grabs every moment as an opportunity to express himself artistically, as the recent web series “Mini Series” attests: a road trip from Vancouver to Toronto inspired a daily episode of a web series that was written, edited, and posted each night along their journey.

Robinson is not shy about taking on new and heavy-duty challenges. His professional training is extensive, from the New York-based American Academy of Dramatic Arts to the intensive program at the Canadian College of Performing Arts, which entailed six days a week of choreography, directing, singing, acting, and dancing for two years. During the third year, he joined a cooperative theatre company of 12 who spend three months working on and offstage for three productions. He also recently just completed the Banff Professional Theatre training program in conjunction with the Citadel Theatre.

He is also busy completing a libretto and composing music in conjunction with the Vancouver Island Symphony, putting together a show for two singers, one of whom is a member of the original Three Canadian Tenors, and composing the music for a 60-piece orchestra.

Tickets to I’ll Be Back before Midnight, which runs Tuesday to Sunday at 2 pm, and 8 pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays, are available by calling 1-877-283-1283 or online at ticketsplease.ca. Ticketholders receive a discount on the Perth Through the Ages historic theatrical walking play, which runs until August 27, and The Lonely Ghosts Walk, which closes August 25.

 

 

CANDIDA’S CONFLICTED MINISTER: A Role to Relish at Classic Theatre

Jeffrey Aarles and Dana Fradkin play a conflicted husband and wife in the warm and witty Shaw classic Candida, playing at Perth’s Classic Theatre Festival until August 13. (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

For Toronto performer Jeffrey Aarles, who returns to the Classic Theatre Festival stage in Perth this summer to take on the role of the conflicted minister Rev. James Morell in Shaw’s warm and witty classic, Candida, playing the role a second time around has been a very different experience from the first.

Candida, which plays until August 13 at 54 Beckwith Street East, has won warm reviews from theatre reviewers and audiences alike for its take on Victorian notions of love and marriage, and also the unique characterization with which Shaw infuses each role he creates.

Aarles first played the role at Toronto’s Shaw in the City series, directed by Laurel Smith. Teaming up with Smith again in Perth has been a great experience, though, as he explains, also a new one. “A play is all about human interactions: change the humans, and you change the interactions,” he says. “Add to that the different venue, different stage management, different designers, different everything. A play is a communal effort. It isn’t like a painting that is completed and framed and remains more or less static for the course of its existence; every production is blessed with many minds, and will emphasize different elements of what the playwright consciously or unconsciously included.”

Aarles is especially fond of Shaw’s language, full of wit and wisdom. “What’s most amazing about Shaw is that he finds ways to make the political the personal for his characters,” he says. “He wraps his words around ways that people see the world, and he lets those perspectives be presented honestly, and without it feeling at all pedantic, and he somehow manages to do this while retaining great respect for each of them. Shaw creates a framework that doesn’t allow for ‘bad guys’.”

Indeed, Aarles continues, in a Shaw play like Candida, “Everyone is honest to his or her own standards, whatever the other characters (or the audience) might think of them. Everyone is granted their dignity and a kind of honesty, even if we consider the character a total hypocrite. This is what makes  Shaw so wonderfully contemporary; the audience will know the characters they meet in his plays. They may speak in unfamiliar ways, but they aren’t strangers. They live next door, or run the corner store, or are in the news on a regular basis.”

Aarles came to performing because, as he recalls it, one of his acting teachers used to say that “people choose acting because they like to feel. That now feels like kind of a generalization, but there’s truth in it for me anyway. A character presents opportunities to explore not only one’s own feelings, but to attempt to step into a stranger’s skin and understand the world from his perspective, which is often going to be quite different from one’s own. To feel and react to events not as oneself, but as someone else – doing that makes one look at the whole world a little differently.”

Candida has certainly provoked a good deal of discussion about Shaw’s worldview. It’s also provided an entrée into a world not so different from today’s contemporary gender relations. As part of a storytelling tradition, Aarles is pleased that a special connection can be made with each audience member.

“It’s a very intimate responsibility, this theatre thing,” he concludes. “Most audience members will only come once, and so each performance, we have just the one opportunity to tell this story to this very particular group of people who have come to hear it. I love that responsibility.”

Candida runs Tuesday to Sunday at 2 pm, with 8 pm shows Wednesdays and Saturdays. It is followed August 18 to September 10 by the mystery thriller I’ll Be Back Before Midnight. The Festival’s historic walking plays continue to run 7 times weekly throughout August as well.

For tickets and more information visit www.classictheatre.ca or 1-877-283-1283.

FRADKIN FEELS THE LOVE: With the Classic Theatre Festival’s Candida

Dana Fradkin stars in the title role of Candida, the warm and witty Shaw classic that is capturing the hearts of audiences and theatre reviewers alike at the Classic Theatre Festival, 54 Beckwith Street East in Perth. It runs Tuesdays to Sundays at 2 pm, with 8 pm shows every Wednesday and Saturday (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle).

At the heart of George Bernard Shaw’s warm and witty play Candida, now playing at the Classic Theatre Festival in Perth, is a clergyman’s spouse who is truly loved by everyone. But when one passionate young poet declares his obsessive love with her, it sparks a connubial crisis that forms the basis for one of Shaw’s most memorable pieces, a reflection on Victorian notions of love and marriage as relevant today as when it was first written.

Starring in Candida is Ottawa-raised Dana Fradkin in a performance praised by the Capital Critics Circle as “all charm and warmth” in a show that “as directed by Laurel Smith is breezy and fast moving.” With a full-stage set and mural that depicts Candida’s northeast London home and neighbourhood, the play has also been praised as a visual delight thanks to Renate Seiler’s costumes, Roger Schultz’s set, and lighting by Wesley McKenzie.

Fradkin is a busy theatre, film, television, and stunt performer (she can be seen in recent work including including Reign, Fatal Vows, Haphead, Cold Blood, Crimes of Passion, Unleashed, Out There with Melissa DiMarco, Satisfaction, and Little Phoenix and the Reign of Fists) who discovered acting in grade 8 “when I was desperate not go to the high school in my neighbourhood. I didn’t have a lot of other choices except the high school of performing arts (Ottawa’s Canterbury).  I didn’t have any artistic skills but I was determined to get in.  The drama program looked fun, so I started getting into drama classes and then auditioned.”

Once accepted, she set her course for a performing arts career. Her first role was playing the dog and crocodile in the musical Peter Pan with JCC Theatreworks at Centrepoint Theatre.  “It was thrilling,” Fradkin recalls with a laugh, “except for that one time when I couldn’t see through the crocodile mask and I walked into the wall and then almost off the stage.”

Following intensive training at Toronto’s George Brown Theatre School,  Fradkin’s first professional role was as Queen Jadis in The Magician Nephew at Stage West Mississauga.

As someone who works in numerous media, Fradkin says there is nothing quite like the experience of live theatre. “The journey of a stage show is irreplaceable and the collaboration of theatre is so unique,” she says. “Film acting is much more separate from the big picture. I love film, though, because it demands that you are truly honest and genuine in your work.  My film work has definitely made me grow as an actor and has made my stage work much more honest and specific.”

Fradkin makes her own short films, where “putting  everything together is a great challenge and it’s great to have a final product of your work.  I miss that in theatre.  Once it’s done, it’s gone. That always makes me sad.”

Theatre fans who venture into Ottawa will recall Fradkin’s turn last summer as Smeraldina in Odyssey Theatre’s The Servant of Two Masters, one of her favourite roles. “I loved playing that character, full of flirtation and also a feminist: such an absolute joy.  I also loved playing Maryke, the lead in the short film I wrote, Satisfaction.  I wrote it because I felt her journey and it was so thrilling to be able to play it out.”

Fradkin says she loves playing Candida because of “her true confidence, sense of play and deep love for people in her life.  It feels great to play that. She loves so deeply, and my challenge in the next few weeks is to continue to open my heart, to feel all her emotions deeper and deeper everyday.”

It’s a challenge well met, given the reactions of audiences who are leaving the theatre with big smiles on their faces. “I have the privilege of being at the door every time the show ends and receiving feedback, and Candida is one of those shows where people feel renewed and refreshed, given a shot of hope and optimism, which is in such short supply these days,” says Associate Producer Matthew Behrens.

Tickets to Candida, which runs until August 13, are available by calling 1-877-283-1283 or visiting www.classictheatre.ca. The final show of the Festival’s season, the mystery thriller I’ll Be Back before Midnight, opens August 18 and runs until September 10. The theatrical walking plays – A Nation Lost and Found, and The Beat Goes On – continue to run mornings and evenings until August 27 as well.

 

CANDIDAMANIA ARRIVES: At Perth’s Classic Theatre Festival July 21

Candida plays to August 13, 2017, starring (L to R): Fraser Elsdon, Anna Burkholder, Dana Fradkin, Jeffrey Aarles, Sean Jacklin and William Vickers (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle).

British cultural exports to North America have often earned monikers that suit the temperament they inspire. The adulation greeting four lads from Liverpool who crossed the pond in 1964 inspired Beatlemania, but long before that landmark Baby Boomer phenomenon, another “mania” was inspired by a play opening July 21 at Perth’s Classic Theatre Festival.

“Candidamania” was an early 20th century sensation inspired by the first New York production of Candida, George Bernard Shaw’s warm and witty comedy that skewered Victorian notions of love, marriage, and friendship.

As Americans entered a new era marked by technological change and breaking with restrictive social and moral conventions, Candida fit the bill for a sophisticated, new kind of theatrical experience that was overwhelmingly applauded both because it was very funny but also thoughtful and provocative. Candidamania was described by the New York Sun as “a contagious disease, frequently caught in street cars, elevated trains, department stores, restaurants, and other places where people talk about what they did the night before. ‘Have you seen Candida?’ is the question of the hour. Thousands are dragging their friends to see Mr. Shaw’s play.”

The story revolves around Candida, the wife of a famous clergyman, the Reverend James Mavor Morell (played by Jeffrey Aarles). Played by Festival newcomer (and Ottawa-raised) Dana Fradkin, Candida’s good works, charm, and grace have certainly helped Morell in his career, and she is loved by one and all. That love so many feel for her becomes translated into a romantic obsession on the part of a passionate young Morell protégé by the name of Eugene Marchbanks (Perth-born Sean Jacklin), whose loving entreaties create a connubial crisis for the married couple.

As with all Shaw plays, Candida is peopled with unforgettable comic characters, who in this case include the prickly but dedicated Morell secretary Miss Proserpine (played by Anna Burkholder), the fawning Reverend Alexander Mill (Fraser Elsdon), and Candida’s father, Burgess (William Vickers), described as only Shaw could write as “a man made coarse and sordid by the compulsory selfishness of petty commerce, and later on softened into sluggish bumptiousness by overfeeding and commercial success.”

That comic trio were last seen on the Festival stage in the gripping thriller An Inspector Calls.

Those familiar with the history of the person voted Canada’s greatest Canadian, medicare founder Tommy Douglas, will also recognize something of Rev. Morell. As a Christian socialist who, in ministering to the poor and socially isolated in northeast London, Morell’s character reflects a significant social movement that made its mark on this country through the ideas and programs first introduced to Canada by the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. The CCF (forerunner to today’s NDP) took to heart the social teachings of Jesus, especially the invitation from the Sermon on the Mount to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, house the homeless, and tend to those in prison or sick beds.

Director Laurel Smith, who worked at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake after staging a successful Toronto series of “Shaw in the City” productions (including an earlier production of Candida), says “Shaw continues to offer us so much given his understanding of human dynamics and how we relate to one another as acquaintances, friends, lovers, and spouses. Anyone who has ever been married or just deeply in love, with all the conflicting emotions that produces, will identify with many of the characters in this wonderful play.”

Smith points to the Classic Theatre Festival’s award-winning production of Shaw’s comedy Arms and the Man from last summer’s season as proof that Shaw still has “a great deal of resonance with today’s audiences, who appreciate not only his incredible wit and memorable turn of phrases, but also his ability to create very human situations that are universal and accessible for audiences everywhere.”

Discounted preview tickets for Candida, which begins July 21, are still available, and the play will run until August 13, Tues. to Sun at 2 pm, with 8 pm shows every Wed. & Sat. To see what inspired Britain’s first “mania” export of the 20th century, visit classictheatre.ca or call 1-877-283-1283.

 

BERNARD SLADE’S DAUGHTER: Recalls Same Time, Next Year Success

Newborn Laurie Newbound is raised up by her mother, Canadian actor Jill Foster, who often inspired the female characters in husband Bernard Slade’s work.

Los Angeles writer Laurie Newbound remembers well the sensational buzz that accompanied the Broadway premiere of her Canadian father Bernard Slade’s legendary hit comedy, Same Time, Next Year (which is currently playing to much enthusiastic applause until July 16 at the Classic Theatre Festival, 54 Beckwith Street East, Perth.)

Speaking by phone from L.A., Newbound, who in 1975 was a student at Sarah Lawrence, says “it was just electric. The response at that time was incredible,” as a four-block-long lineup outside the Brooks Atkinson Theatre the day after opening night signaled the start of a three-year run on Broadway. “When I saw the musical Hamilton, it reminded me of a small handful of plays I’ve attended, like my father’s play, where it really felt like an event, where the audience was really excited to be there.”

Newbound recalls her father wrote Same Time, Next Year very quickly following a weekend getaway that Slade enjoyed with his wife, Jill Foster (who was born Florence Hancock). He had been inspired by the beautiful, rustic surroundings of a cottage in Mendocino, California, and thought it was the perfect location for a romantic comedy which, in this case, is about two people (George and Doris) who gather there annually for a weekend despite being married to other people.

“Doris to me is such a remembrance of my mother,” Newbound says. “That character is so like my mother. I always loved it for that.”

Slade himself wrote that “There is a great deal of Jill in Doris, as there is in most of the women I write. During an intermission of a performance in Boston a woman archly asked Jill, ‘Which one are you, the mistress or the wife?’ Jill said, ‘I’m both.’”

Newbound says she has not seen the play in 15 years, but that she did take her kids to see it in New Haven, and it continues to enjoy cross-generational appeal. She grew up in Hollywood, attending school with the daughters of Gregory Peck and Lloyd Bridges, among other actors, and began a career in television working as a script assistant on the program Barney Miller.

She recalls Slade being unhappy during the last four or five years of writing for television, when he was cranking out scripts for everything from Bewitched (which featured Jill in the role of Darrin Stevens’ secretary, Betty) and The Flying Nun to The Partridge Family (the latter two were series he actually created as well). As many writers lamented at the time, there was only so much character and plot development that could be squeezed into 22 minutes, sandwiched among commercials for antacids and toilet tissue.

“I even remember as a kid asking why television isn’t better,” she laughs, noting that most viewers are now enjoying a golden age of TV shows with great variety and depth. “The Partridge Family was adorable,” she admits, noting that Susan Dey’s character, Laurie, was named for her, and Newbound’s first boyfriend Keith earned a certain notoriety as the namesake for the David Cassidy role.

“My dad had an unusual style when it came to writing,” Newbound recalls. “He wrote long-hand and he liked writing with people around. He would write around the pool or with the TV on. Our family life was going on and he would be writing on his yellow pad, he didn’t even have an office at home. It was never like, ‘Shhhh, your dad is writing.’”

While their family was part of a large Canadian diaspora that migrated to Hollywood in the 1960s, Newbound says her parents never had a strong sense of national identity. “He felt like his country was the theatre. The collegial atmosphere of being with other actors and directors and producers in that world, that is where he found his sense of family and belonging.”

Slade is now 87, and sadly lost his lifelong spouse Jill this past spring. Newbound currently writes a blog called the Panini Press (www.thepaninipress.net) that details what it is like to be squeezed between the concerns of aging parents and maturing children. “It’s such a common story but in a weird way it’s almost untold,” she says.

The Classic Theatre Festival production of Same Time, Next Year, which has generated much buzz among audiences and theatre reviewers, closes on Sunday, July 16, followed by the opening of George Bernard Shaw’s comedy Candida on July 21, and the mystery thriller I’ll Be Back Before Midnight on August 18. The theatrical historic walking plays Perth through the Ages and The Lonely Ghosts Walk continue to run 7 times weekly as well through the end of August.

For tickets call 1-877-283-1283 or visit ticketsplease.ca

SUGARMAN SHINES: Delightful Classic Theatre Festival Comedy

Lana Sugarman stars in the hit Classic Theatre Festival comedy “Same Time, Next Year,” in a performance that is winning praise from audiences as well as some of Canada’s top theatre reviewers. (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

Fresh off her award-winning performance as Raina in last year’s Arms and the Man at Perth’s Classic Theatre Festival, Lana Sugarman has returned to star in the Bernard Slade comedy Same Time, Next Year, about a couple – Doris and George – who get together for an annual weekend over 25 years despite being married to other people.

Sugarman’s performance, along with her co-star Scott Clarkson, has already won applause from audiences and some of the nation’s top theatre reviewers, Iris Winston and Jamie Portman of the Capital Critics Circle. Winston hailed the production  as “A delightful opener for this year’s Classic Theatre Festival.”

Portman, meanwhile, enthused that “there are only two characters on stage, but thanks to the performances of Scott Clarkson and Lana Sugarman, we are conscious of other lives at play — unseen lives, yes, but ones that assume their own reality in Laurel Smith’s beautifully modulated production. These two performers take full advantage of Bernard Slade’s crackling comic dialogue. They trade the funny one-liners  with an ease indicative of the potent on-stage chemistry existing between them. But there’s also genuine tenderness in the relationship we’re seeing.

“Sugarman, a delightful actress, gives us a Doris with a readiness to accept the funny side of life, but she also reveals a woman with the strength and resilience to respond to change and challenge within the emerging feminist culture of the day. Clarkson, a nimble comedian, finds an unusual depth of character in George. He also is quite astonishing in giving us a man who is gradually getting older as the evening progresses. It’s an achievement that goes beyond adding a moustache to the upper lip or pencilling a bit of grey into the sideburns.”

Scott Clarkson as George and Lana Sugarman as Doris in CTF’s 2017 production of “Same Time, Next Year.” (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

Playing Doris has been a fun experience for Sugarman, who says it’s especially rewarding because we get to grow up with her. She is very earnest and naive at the beginning of the show. As time goes on we see her come into her own, going back to school, speaking her mind, running a successful business and raising four children. There is both sweetness and strength. I can relate to a lot of her characteristics.”

Sugarman sees similarities between the work of George Bernard Shaw and Slade, because both playwrights create characters who are trying “earnestly to find their way in the world. I think both of them comment on the times – examining the cost of war, falling for people who may not be deemed ‘appropriate’, all the while maintaining a fun, light tone.”

Part of the challenge and charm of Same Time, Next Year is both characters always being on stage for the length of the show. Sugarman sees a beauty in this challenge, because “you are always ‘in the world of the play,’ in a zone with no distractions. I think it can be more challenging at times for the characters who pop in and out, or enter late in the show, and have to keep the energy/continuity going.”

Scott Clarkson and Lana Sugarman in the CTF’s 2016 producton of Shaw’s “Arms and the Man.” (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

Working with her co-star Clarkson – with whom she also performed in Arms and the Man – has been a gift. “A trust is built, and I think that is essential for a show like this,” she explains. “When you feel safe as an actor you can really play, expand, and create strong, heartfelt work. I think Scott and I have a great chemistry onstage (and great boundaries offstage!), and I’m excited to take this journey with such a talented actor and fabulous fellow.”

Director Laurel Smith has been pleased with the strong audience reaction and terrific critical reception for the show. “People leave the theatre with big smiles on their faces, and they’ve had a truly rewarding experience,” she says.

Same Time, Next Year runs until July 16, Tuesday to Sunday at 2 pm, with 8 pm shows Wednesdays and Saturdays. It’s followed later this summer by Shaw’s comedy Candida and the thriller I’ll Be Back before Midnight. The Festival’s theatrical walking plays, Perth through the Ages (Wed. to Sun at 11 am) and The Lonely Ghosts Walk (Thurs. & Fri at 7 pm) round out a very full Festival summer.

Tickets are available at www.classictheatre.ca or 1-877-283-1283.

CLARKSON RETURNS: Seventh Summer Season in Legendary Comedy

Scott Clarkson and Lana Sugarman, seen here in last year’s award-winning Arms and the Man, return to star in the Classic Theatre Festival’s opening show, the popular Bernard Slade comedy Same Time, Next Year. (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

When the Classic Theatre Festival’s mainstage season opens June 23 with the legendary Bernard Slade comedy Same Time, Next Year (sponsored by CogecoTV), many audience members will recognize the performer playing George, a married man who gets together for an annual weekend with a married woman named Doris, played by Lana Sugarman.

The longest running Canadian comedy in Broadway history is the brainchild of a Canadian writer who, in addition to penning many a CBC show during the 1950s and 60s, also created the TV series The Flying Nun and The Partridge Family.

Clarkson says his character is “the same mass of walking contradictions that we all are. He describes his life as a mess, but he became an accountant because figures don’t lie, and he takes comfort in that.”

Clarkson notes that among George’s conflicted feelings is the fact that “he considers himself happily married, but falls in love with Doris and carries on a yearly tryst with her for decades. He feels terrible guilt, but doesn’t want to stop. He alternates between self-centred obliviousness and being aware enough to know when he’s made a mistake, and to apologize for it.”

The veteran Festival performer – now appearing in his 7th consecutive summer season – says “the scope of playing a person over the span of a quarter century is what makes it tricky. Each scene is set in a distinct era, five years apart, and George and Doris clearly reflect the changes of the society in which they live. Lana and I can’t play symbols though, and Slade walks the line between letting the characters suggest the times outside their never changing hotel room, and being the messy human beings in love that they are.”

Playing George recalls Clarkson’s first role at the Festival in the Jan de Hartog play The Fourposter, which similarly charts a marriage’s ups and downs over 40 years. “Though written a generation apart, I remember being so impressed with how The Fourposter felt fresh and true, and that’s also true of Same Time, Next Year.”

Being on stage the whole time is a challenge that Clarkson likens to running a marathon that, while testing his endurance, benefits from the fact that “there’s really no opportunity to let your guard down, to be distracted backstage as you wait for 15 minutes for your next scene. You get to live in the world you’ve help create, for the duration of the show.”

While the play and film of Same Time, Next Year (with Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn) were hugely popular with baby boomers, Clarkson notes “the characters are actually older than boomers, so if anything, this is an opportunity for a boomer to get a glimpse of what life may have been like for their parents. But for all that, Slade doesn’t write Doris and George as bland 1950s stereotypes.

“Slade made his name as a TV writer in the 60s, but this play allowed him to go so much deeper than a sitcom would. It’s kind of the best of both worlds to me: there’s a rhythm to the writing that calls to mind all the great sitcoms I watched from the 60s and 70s (like Barney Miller) but the story has depth and we get to see these characters develop over more than the 22 minutes a sitcom would afford. The foibles of these characters, the mix of neuroses and heart, will probably feel familiar to anyone who’s seen a Neil Simon play or even Seinfeld.”

Same Time, Next Year runs until July 16, Tuesday to Sunday at 2 pm, with 8 pm shows Wed. & Sat. It’s followed by the Shaw comedy Candida and the Peter Colley thriller I’ll Be Back Before Midnight. All mainstage shows take place at 54 Beckwith Street East (at Harvey). Historic walking plays are also running 7 times a week, with Perth through the Ages’ Confederation-themed story Wed. to Sun at 11 am (meeting at the Perth Museum) and the Thursday and Friday evening Lonely Ghosts Walk (an 1867 meets Expo67 time travel comedic romp) begins at 7 pm.

For tickets to the 2017 summer season, call 1-877-283-1283 or visit ticketsplease.ca