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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Perception Perils

Kathy Gallant
Published Thursday April 30, 07:12 pm
Just how well do any of us know each other?

Runs to Sunday 3
The Refinery

Perception is a tricky concept: what we think we may know about a person or situation can be completely off-base. This idea rings very true for Live Five’s upcoming debut of Willow Road, a play by Saskatchewan playwright Wendy Lockman.

The story depicts a plucky young nurse named Kimberly (played by Jenna-Lee Hyde) who jumps at the chance to work with her favourite author, a man named Lee (played by Rob van Meenen) who needs a home nurse as he awaits a liver transplant.

But Kimberly soon learns that this man is not at all what she expected him to be.

“It’s interesting when you feel like you know a person through reputation,” says Hyde. “Kimberly adores his books, especially one called Willow Road. The reason Lee needs a liver transplant is cirrhosis. Kimberly realizes he’s a terrible alcoholic, and has to learn to navigate life with this man and his feisty housekeeper Martha, who’s played by Sharon Bakker.”

Hyde calls Willow Road a funny and moving play about perceptions and regrets — and while the story is about a man facing a pretty grave health issue, there are many humorous and poignant elements as well.

“The structure of the story is interesting, because there are real-life scenes, but there are also scenes acted out from Lee’s books,” she says. “This imagery plays into the action of Lee’s life story, and also helps Kimberly make decisions and uncover who she is as well.”

She says the play has a cinematic feel, with quick snippets to another time. The rhythm of the show contains very fast jokes, a bit of a love story and dramatic moments, all wrapped up in witty dialogue.

“Wendy Lockman is a very effective writer,” says Hyde. “There will be a really heavy moment, then you’ll have some chuckles, and then a moment of clarity that sinks in, and there’s dark comedy and body humour. Lee portrays sexual innuendo and has a bit of a crass mouth. He says in one of his monologues that he knows how to push peoples’ buttons and make them uncomfortable. Kimberly is kind of an eager, fresh-faced, vanilla person. Martha is sassy. Every character has a path and a history — there’s no character that is exactly who they say they are.”

Willow Roadis produced by budding theatre company Paper Cranes for Charlotte Productions, and this is this particular play’s introductory performance. Hyde says that working on this production has been a wonderful and collaborative experience; before linking with Live Five, the play was part of a spring session at the Saskatchewan Playwright Centre.

“We’ve worked on the dramaturgy together,” she says.“The writer is a text or an email away —she lives in Swift Current — so we were able to ask her questions and adapt some ideas. The thing I love about theatre and good ensembles is when there’s subject matter an actor may not understand or empathize with, others will pipe in with a similar experience. The characters can grow as traits are identified.

“There have been things that we’ve had to do research about, actors and playwright alike. It helps develop the characters because we grasp how to play certain movements — having dementia, a panic attack.”

The play is directed by Pamela Haig-Bartley and stage-managed by Emma Thorpe, with lighting and design by Jared Beattie — all of whom have been integral to the process, says Hyde.

“Stage prep started before rehearsals, and Jared and Pam came up with the concept,” she says. “The action of the play is quite realistic, but the set is not. We’re doing an alley staging with the play happening in the centre of the audience. Jared’s design is like the desk of an artist come to life, and there’s a gigantic book standing in one corner of the theatre. There are realistic elements like chairs, and since Rob’s character Lee is bedridden, we were able to get a bed from Sleepers Mattress Factory, thanks to Rob’s family!

“It’s a brand spanking new [play], and that’s really exciting,” she says. “We’ve had a lot of tried-and-true theatre work in the city — Tony-winning musicals, Shakespeare and other well-known plays. Doing something this new is a bit scary, but what better reason to see live theatre!”

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