Comment: Pegeen and the Pilgrim

by Lynn on August 16, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person in the back lawn of the Bruce Hotel, Stratford, Ont.

Part of the reading series of the Here for Now Theatre, New Works Festival.

Adapted and directed by Brigit Wilson

Based on the novel “Pegeen and the Pilgrim” by Lyn Cook

Cast: Nigel Bennett

Emily Birrell

Zoë Brown

Ijeoma Emesowum

Steve Ross

This is a comment and not a review because this event was ‘only’ a reading of the play.

It’s based on Lyn Cook’s book for young people about Pegeen, a sweet 12-year-old who lives in Stratford, Ontario with her mother and wants to become an actress. Her father has died and her mother ekes out a living running a boarding house. Pegeen helps out as much as possible. Her older brother is away at University so any spare money goes to him to pay his tuition and books etc.

Pegeen wants to go to a Mother-Daughter dinner with her mother but her mother says she has nothing to wear, so Pegeen does everything she can to earn money to buy her mother a wonderful dress as a surprise. She takes over a friend’s paper route while he recovers from an accident. And then Pegeen hears that a Shakespeare Festival is being planned for Stratford and Pegeen dreams of being involved.

Here for Now Theatre has programmed this reading to gently get younger audiences interested in going to the theatre. The reading was sponsored by a gracious donor, the wondrous Loreena Mckennitt, so that price would not be a barrier. It was heartening to see a few young people there. Here for Now Theatre was also selling the novel. I look forward to reading it.

In her adaptation Brigit Wilson illuminates the tremendous character of Pegeen. I thought that was terrific. Here is a kid who knows how hard her mother works, how scarce money is and how much she wants for them to go to this dinner. So Pegeen works for the money. There is a moment in the play when Pegeen must make a decision about continuing the paper route or doing something that she’d dreamed about for a long time. She choses the path of responsibility and keeping her word to her friend. A life lesson for both adults and kids.

The play takes place in the 1950s at the beginning of the Stratford Festival so Pegeen lives at a heady time in the town and the Stratford Festival’s history. I like the gentle humour and palpable excitement that festival brought to the town as per the play, nay-sayers notwithstanding.

As Pegeen, Emily Birrell brings a freshness and enthusiasm to the reading. She seems a natural talent; relaxed, eager, confident. Zoë Brown plays Pegeen’s friend, Sheila Anderson, with her own charm which blends well with Pegeen’s. The friendship is true with a slight glitch of misunderstanding, but we all dream of such a young friendship.

Steve Ross plays various blustery characters and fills us in on the narration. Ijeoma Emesowum  chamges characters effortlessly. She plays Pegeen’s harried but caring mother; Pegeen’s teacher with just putting on a pair of glasses and some slightly different body language and with another flick of the glasses for another pair, we have another character—all transitioned seamlessly. A lovely performance. Nigel Bennett play Mr. B, an expert in Shakespeare and a carpenter who has come to create the magical stage. He befriends Pegeen and sees in her a young girl greedy for stories of the stage, thoughts on Shakespeare, and a kindred spirit.

Pegeen and the Pilgrim is a tender look back at the early years of Stratford but most important and coming of age in a sense of Pegeen a young girl with grit, a sense of responsibility and great character. I hope the play is worked on more so that a production of the play is possible.

Produced by the Here For Now Theatre, New Works Festival.

Runs August 21, 22.

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