by Lynn on May 5, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St. E., Toronto. Ont.

By Somerset Maugham
Directed by Grace Smith
Production designed by Jackie McLelland
Costumes by Laura Delchario
Lighting by Emilio Sebastiao
Starring: Leah Holder
Victoria Houser
Shannon Maunder
Geoff Mays
Matt McGrath
Simon Mizera
Luke Slade
Leete Stetson
Kayla Whelan
Sarah White

A surprise being introduced to a little known play by a noted writer produced by two fearless companies.

From the program, “About the Companies: Snowdrop Productions is committed to producing underperformed plays with an emphasis on Canadian Themes. We possess a strong interest in plays written or set in the first half of the twentieth century which allow us to examine our cultural history through theatre. We believe in the importance of telling Canadian Stories and exploring Canadian History.”

“Theatre Double Take is a Toronto theatre company specializing in inquisitive adaptations that examine problematic aspects of well-known plays, works of literature, and historical events. Their inaugural production was 2014’s Madeleine Robin Known
As Roxane,
a sort-of sequel to Cyrano de Bergerac.”

Talk about a challenging premise.

The Land of Promise, A Comedy in Four Acts by Somerset Maugham is their joint venture.

The Story. The time is over a 100 years ago and the places are Tunbridge Wells in England and Manitoba (everyone knows where that is). Norah Marsh is a lady’s maid in Tunbridge Wells, England, whose employer has just died. Feeling that there is nothing for her in England, Norah decides to visit her brother Ed in Manitoba. Ed went there to buy a farm, married and stayed. When Norah arrives with her arrogance and condescension firmly in place towards all things Canadian her sister-in-law Gertie doesn’t take it too well. This puts Ed in a delicate position.

Frank Taylor, a hired hand, sees the problem and offers to help Norah by offering to marry her, give her a home on his small farm, and expects her to do her share. To spite Gertie, who doesn’t think Norah has the pluck to survive the harsh life, Norah accepts the offer. She’s still arrogant, stubborn, and has airs. It’s rough going with Frank who takes no attitude especially from a woman. It doesn’t bode well. But this is Manitoba, in Canada, eh, and things have a way of turning out ok.

The Production. The stage at the Red Sandcastle theatre is the size of a postage stamp, totally visible to the audience. There is no stage curtain and there is no wing space. There are 10 people in the cast. You see the challenge. Director Grace Smith has risen to that challenge quite handily, for the most part.

As the audience files in the actors gradually arrive on stage in costume, ready to do their warm up. All kinds of noises come out of those mouths; there is much vocalizing; lots of blowing of air through pursed lips; limbering up. The stage manager calls out how much time to curtain. The cast calls back, “Thank you.” One actress moves a prop and is roundly reprimanded not to do it. She puts the prop back in the position it is in before she moves it. One actress warms up while listening to whatever wearing ear buds. She is so engrossed in listening to whatever she’s listening to that later when the stage manager is calling for “places”, as the show is about to begin, she has to be told twice before she hears the stage manager.

I must confess, this bit of silliness makes no sense to me. Is it to create a bit of comic diversion? Why. Surely a play billed as a Comedy in Four Acts can take care of the humour. In any case I thought that bit of stage business-moving a prop, listening on ear buds when the warm up should have taken all the actress’s attention, is confusing and unnecessary.

When actors are not in a scene they sit in a row of chairs to the left of the stage on one side of a curtain of black that cut the stage off from them and vice versa. When it is an actor’s turn to act on stage, he/she just gets up and walks on to the stage for the production.

Jackie McLelland’s set is small and efficient. A table and chairs with few props seems to be it. There is the suggestions of a miniature window with two small columns of window coverings in front of it, hanging on the wall. That’s a nice touch. The cast changes the scenes and moves the furniture.

Norah (Sarah White) and Frank (Simon Mizera) have their volatile moments. She is ready to fight him ideally verbally, but if necessary, physically. He reacts with as much anger even though he tries to control it. Until of course things change. The cast acquitted themselves honourably.

Comment. As I said at the beginning, learning about The Land of Promise, a very early Somerset Maugham play, is an unexpected pleasant surprise and discovering these two fearless theatre companies that produced it is a bonus.

Theatre Double Take and Snowdrop Productions Present:

Run: May 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9 2015
Cast: 10; 5 men, 5 women
Running Time: 2 hours approx.


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