On a hot Toronto summer evening last Friday, a few lucky people were transported to wintry Newfoundland during the exciting first read-through of Lisa Moore’s play February. It’s based on her novel – which the Globe And Mail accurately described as “luminous” – the play was workshopped in Moore’s home province last year, but Alumnae Theatre is extremely proud to present the WORLD PREMIERE production in September.
Lisa Moore herself attended the reading (held at DanceMakers Studio in the Distillery District – Alumnae Theatre was booked up), along with director Michelle Alexander, producer Tabitha Keast, assistant director Darwin Lyons, and costume designer Peter DeFreitas. Also in attendance were about 8 members of Alumnae Theatre Company, as well as Sarah MacLachlan (no, not the singer), the president and publisher of House of Anansi Press, which published February the novel.
The cast read the play straight through without a break; essential stage directions were read by AD Darwin Lyons. The actors were Lavetta Griffin as Helen (widow of Cal, who was drowned when his oil rig sank in 1982); Justin Skye Conley as Helen and Cal’s son John (who goes from a scared 10-year old to a grown man dealing with unexpected fatherhood); John Fray as Cal (seen in flashbacks to their early married days and in Helen’s memory); Kathleen Allamby as Louise, Helen’s sister; Steve Switzman as Barry (the carpenter renovating Helen’s house in the present); Trevor Cartlidge as a quartet of characters, including Helen’s bereaved father-in-law; and Victoria Fuller playing Jane (the woman whose unexpected phone call to John sets off the plot) and a young waitress who counsels Helen on a blind date. Victoria had to leave early, so her roles were actually read by Kathleen.
A first reading is always a magical experience – you never know what’s going to happen. The energy in the room was palpable when the actors began, and almost immediately, I got my first taste of the magic: without rehearsal, Lavetta and Justin seamlessly performed Helen and John’s overlapping lines at the start of the play. It was like a glorious verbal dance. Goosebumps! Later, I noticed Lisa Moore smiling as Lavetta and Steve turned Helen and Barry’s apparently casual conversation about sandwich garnishes into a delightfully subtle, shy flirtation. And I must mention Lavetta’s awesome (and genuine – she hails from The Rock) Newfoundland accent!
The reading lasted approx. 80 minutes, and then the visitors were excused, while the cast stayed to confer with director Michelle Alexander. I’ve asked her to keep me posted on any fun stuff that comes up in rehearsal, so there will be more bloggage over the next few weeks.
The world premiere of February runs September 21 – October 6 at Alumnae Theatre.
And take note: Alumnae Theatre usually holds Talkback sessions with cast and director following the second Sunday matinee of each play. However, since Lisa Moore will be in Toronto for the opening night on Friday, September 21, she plans to stay for that weekend and participate in the Talkback, which will be moved up to the first Sunday, September 23. So mark your calendars – it’s a real treat to have the playwright available to answer audience questions!