Playwright Beth Graham always seems to have a lot of unanswerable questions on her mind. In 2014, with The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble, it was the question of how a family matriarch’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease affects the family. Last year, the question of how a town and its residents who depend on one employer can carry on when that employer closes up shop, as co-writer of Fortune Falls with Jonathan Christenson.
This year, it’s the question of how some people succumb to addiction while others don’t, and what can be done to save those who are in the throws of addiction in Beth’s latest, Pretty Goblins. Partially developed at, and presented by Workshop West, Pretty Goblins runs April 18 – 29 at the Backstage Theatre.
Beth says the ideas behind Pretty Goblins were partially inspired by reading Christina Rossetti’s 1862 poem “Goblin Market” in university. The poem deals with themes of sex, violence, addiction, and sisterhood and Beth says the abandon with which “Goblin Market” is written inspired her to tackle her subject matter head-on. “Even though the poem is of a different time and some of the language is antiquated, there is still something oddly contemporary about it. The poem is all over the place in terms of rhyme scheme, the way she built stanzas – it’s just kind of wild. It made me think if another writer can do this, then why can’t I? … For a woman to write about these topics at that time, it was really brave, so I thought I should be brave too and just go for it.”
Pretty Goblins follows sisters Laura (played by Nadien Chu) and Lizzie (Miranda Allen) over 36 years. Beth explains, “I wanted to explore the relationship of sisters, as well as addiction and how it affects familial relationships. Both of those things are in “Goblin Market”. Pretty Goblins is the tale of two sisters and one of them goes down a dark path of addiction and the other sister saves her.”
Beth describes the two sisters as polar opposites. “Laura is the calm, grounded, earthy one. Lizzie is the wild child – the air that gets blown around quite a bit. There is a tension between those two personality types and to add another layer, they’re fraternal twins. I was interested in how people can share so many things, but be so different. The question I also had was, why does one person go this way, and another human doesn’t? Not even between sisters, just between humans.”
While the sister’s relationship takes centre stage in Pretty Goblins, Beth says throughout the play’s development, she’s been thinking about how society as a whole engages with each other. Particularly poignant moments that inspired the play’s development involved Beth questioning how she herself engages with those who may be struggling with addiction, leaving Beth with the questions, “What if I was her sister? How would I behave differently rather than driving by her? That was the question – how do people fall through the cracks? Why can’t we save people from addiction all the time? They’re unanswerable questions in a lot of ways, but that’s what I pursued when I was writing the play, just trying to answer them.”
Although the play hits serious themes and questions, Beth says it finds hilarity in the relationship of the sisters from childhood to adulthood. Beth anticipates the audience will find humour and familiarity in the way Laura and Lizzie interact, “There are a lot of things people will recognize in the way the sisters interact with each other – the things they say to each other and the antics they get up to with each other. Also, sometimes in the darkest moments, the funniest stuff arises, because that’s all you can do is just laugh.”
Special post-show events throughout the run are:
- Friday, April 20 – panel discussion about grief and the afterlife
- Saturday, April 21 (after matinee) – panel discussion about Women and Advocacy in Edmonton and beyond
- Tuesday, April 24 – panel discussion surrounding intergenerational trauma, addiction and sex trafficking from the survivor’s point of view
- Wednesday, April 25 – an evening of poetry as two local poets, Dwennimmen (AKA Shima Robinson) and Ella Zeltserman take to the stage. The evening will conclude with an open mic night.
- Thursday, April 26 – talkback with playwright Beth Graham