Human connection. Sometimes beautiful and sometimes painful, Walterdale Playhouse’s annual festival of new works, From Cradle to Stage, explores the many facets of the things that bond us together.
First, The Ugly Spot, written by University of Alberta student Lisa Lorentz-Gilroy shows us the fallout of two people trying to spend time in the same ugly but meaningful spot in Edmonton’s river valley. In my preview for the show, I marveled at a play whose complete story arc occurred in 25 minutes. I was right to be impressed – Lisa’s script presents this chance interaction between strangers in a way that engages the audience and allows them to fill in the background information and dénouement, without distracting from the main conflict of the play, the two strangers laying claim to a significant spot in the river valley. The play’s emotional impact on me, as an audience member, serves to reinforce the underlying theme – that the chance, day-to-day interactions we have with strangers can make a meaningful impact on another person’s life. Immediately following the show, I tweeted “I want to see “The Ugly Spot” about 5 more times.” While I appreciated the story and script on first seeing the production, I’d love another opportunity to study how Chance Heck (Paul) and Cayley McConaghy (Paula) brought their characters to life in a way that at once seems awkward and familiar, random and meaningful, foreign and natural. In particular, I loved how the two interacted as strangers, but with the knowledge that they had nothing to lose in baring themselves to each other. No where is this more evident than in the climax of the play, with Cayley’s desperate confession and Chance’s calm acceptance.
Next, Exposure, written collaboratively by Stephen Allred, Bethany Hughes, and Jessie McPhee. With how seamlessly the story and dialogue flowed between the characters, no one would ever guess that it was written by three people. Actors Sam Banigan, Sarah Culkin, and Morgan D.D. Refshauge were all convincing in their portrayals as individuals whose lives were ruled by fear, to the point of needing therapy to move on with their lives. In particular, I was impressed by Sam Banigan’s portrayal of Will – a socially awkward man afraid of leaving his house. Sam has created a very believable adult character, making it difficult to remember he is still just in high school! Hats off as well to lighting designer Brad Melrose, whose simple yet effective lighting decisions helped make the transition between the actors’ tentative interactions with each other and their lonely soliloqueys easy for the audience to understand and adjust to. A favorite scene of mine was one where the actors had been talking at a table, paused, and as they rose the lights which framed their individual bubbles where they performed their soliloqueys were faded in. Although the actors were not in the spots in which they might typically perform their soliloqueys, the audience could immediately tell that these were their inner thoughts, not what they were saying to each other.
What really made From Cradle to Stage work for me though, is that it was mounted at Walterdale Playhouse. In the last year, I’ve been involved in Walterdale through an in-depth coverage of Summer and Smoke, covering other Walterdale plays, and volunteering in the box office. To me, there are few other organizations or places in the city that embody the idea of human connection as much as Walterdale. Every person I’ve ever met associated with Walterdale has been a genuinely good person – you know, those people who you just want to keep being around. What I’ve been told makes Walterdale so special is that people stick around for years – beyond just one show. They give their talent, their sweat, and their evenings and weekends to help others have equally amazing experiences as those they themselves have had. So many people have described Walterdale to me as a family or a community. So, when I left Walterdale after 1 1/2 hours of one acts showing me the intricacies of human connection, I had to give a Bravo! to the festival selection committee for pairing these two plays which relate to both my own experiences at Walterdale and the stories every other Walterdale volunteer has told me.
– Jenna Marynowski