Let the mind games begin
Langley Players present
Timothy Findley's The Stillborn Lover
April 19 to May 19, Thursday to Saturday 8 p.m.;Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
At Langley Playhouse, 4307 200St.
Admission: $15. Call 604-534-7469 or go to langleyplayers.com
It may just be the perfect night out for local theatre buffs who appreciate a compelling story — one which asks more questions than it answers.
Langley Players present Timothy Findley’s The Stillborn Lover, April 19 to May 19.
Findley a Canadian novelist and playwright whose tales often spanned decades, touched on war and wove complex relationships among characters, stayed true to form with this play, which is set in 1972 and follows Canadian diplomat Harry Raymond (Aldergrove actor Mike Busswood) who is suddenly recalled to Ottawa from Moscow.
Raymond’s long-time friend, Michael Riordan, (Raymond Hatton, Victoria’s House) is on the cusp of winning his party’s leadership campaign and the prime ministership.
But the real story lies in their history, which is poignantly revealed as the characters are forced to unravel the past — from post-war Nagasaki to Cold War-era Russia. With the past, come revelations that set off loyalty struggles, emotional confusion and misplaced trust.
“It’s such an engaging story,” said director Lou Lou Leroux. And it is one which, she believes, will resonate with audiences.
“People are always intrigued by watching someone’s life ruined before their eyes. People are drawn to that carnage,” she said.
And when that picture is painted by a true artist with a fine brush it becomes that much tougher to look away, she noted.
“(Findley) was a fine writer, known for being very rhythmic and putting images in (a reader’s) head,” said Leroux.
“He creates a lot of moments that are very visual.
“The chance to bring those pictures to life is quite thrilling.”
As well as being evocative, The Stillborn Lover is also mentally and emotionally challenging in a way that community theatre audiences who are accustomed to light comedy fare might not expect.
But it was a deliberate choice for the season’s final production, which the company plans to take to the zone competition being held in Langley later this spring. Mounting a drama (as opposed to a light comedy) for competition is fairly standard practise, said Leroux.
While last year’s provincial contest winner — Langley Players’ production of Lost in Yonkers — married light-hearted dialogue with more serious themes, The Stillborn Lover takes on issues of mental health and sexual orientation amidst a sea of political intrigue.
But the selection of Findley’s play — which, according to Leroux, greatly impressed the reading committee with the quality of its writing — goes beyond mere competition strategy. It’s helping to expand the reach of so-called “think pieces” beyond the arts community in Vancouver.
“As professional companies are struggling — with the Vancouver Playhouse closing — I think the onus is on community theatres to put works on stage that are thought provoking and promote discussion,” Leroux said.
“Realizing, of course, that we’re non-profit and the time it takes to mount a large play.”
For her part, it meant hours of research (and a crash course in Canadian history) in addition to all the elements that go into casting and rehearsing a theatre production.
Leroux also sought assistance from outside the Players’ fold to serve the script as best she could. The production’s original music was composed by Michelle Chattaway, a teacher at Langley Community Music School.
But Chattaway wasn’t given an entirely free reign, said Leroux, because Findley was very specific that the music used in the play be distinctly connected to memory.
In The Stillborn Lover, the story being told is filtered through the eyes of Marion Harris, the wife of the recalled diplomat, who may be in the early stages of dementia.
She is being played by Mary Renvall, who directed Lost in Yonkers and last appeared on stage with the Players in their 2009 production of Steel Magnolias.
At the beginning of rehearsals, each actor was given a lump of playdough and asked to create something they felt symbolized their characters.
“Mine was a boat with holes in it, because she’s been set adrift with holes in her memory or her life,” said Renvall.
But don’t write her off, the actress advises.
A former cipher clerk, Marion has a quick mind and engages the RCMP in a game of cat and mouse.
“She is really fun to play because she has a sharp mind and when she’s on, she’s on.
“It’s almost like a game of battleships or chess. There are strategies being built,” said Renvall.
“But there’s this huge question mark hanging over her head through the whole game.”
Renvall is perhaps best known as a comedic actress, but when she took a trip down the Rabbit Hole with Surrey Little Theatre last year, Leroux, who was producing the play, got a glimpse of her serious side.
“Everyone sees me as a comedy person, but now I have a chance to let my dramatic skills shine,” said Renvall.
“This is a nice role,” she said. “Marion is well-rounded. She is a wife and mother, with a career and status in society. She really had it all.”
The Stillborn Lover reunites Renvall on stage with Busswood, with whom she performed in Harvey, 19 years ago.
“That’s been a real thrill,” she said.
“He’s a well respected actor and it’s so nice to be on stage with him.”
Audiences are advised that this production contains mature content and subtle nudity.