Seersucker Toady

Tuesday, 31 August, 2010

Open-hearted, joyful performance of  innocence and loving friendships.

Edinburgh 2010- Church Hill Theatre – 20-25 August, 14.15

The Churchill Theatre stage looked very beautiful for this light-hearted performance by Ecole Secondaire Notre Dame pupils from Canada. The set was representative of wide prairie skies and golden rolling plains.  The  haybales were gorgeously designed and the lighting gloriously warm. The playing company, descrided on the programme as, ” fresh-faced Alberta youths” were all just so. The young men were handsome and fit, the young women were costumed divinely and each was alive with appropriate character and energy.

Set in the golden age of dirigible travel on the Canadian prairies, the play explores the delicately balanced teenage relationships of a tightly knit group of village youngsters in the early 1900’s.

We are taken into the story by modern narrators, played with 21st Century ‘cool’ by Vanessa LaGrange and Chantelle Waschuk. These confident, lovely young ladies keep the story moving with direct address to the audience and excellent play between one another, as they hop in and out of historical time, commenting upon the Innisfail village action with well timed humour. Their movements are focussed. Their voices are clear and strong without being strident. Their “distance” from the local country people is finely drawn.

We meet the village young people, relaxing together and teasing one another. The local Girls, Peggy, Della and Chips are skillfully painted by Renee Crawley, Tori Grebinski and Gina Omilon.Their conversations bounce along and their comic timing is splendid. Their relationship as long term friends is very believable and the love they share is clearly present upon the stage.

The local Lads, Hamish, Cobb and Squirrel are equally well realised by Brett Van der Voort, Andres Moreno and Carson Meyer. Their portrayal of young men who truly care for one another while joshing and sending one another up is truthful, comic and serious, in a way rarely seen on stage or television these days.

The writing of the youthful exchanges by Stweart Lemoine is well observed and the director, Melissa Mayville, has assisted everyone to give of their best to bring this close-knit, village atmosphere alive with intelligence and love. These are not stupid country bumpkins, they are warm-hearted, intelligent teenagers.

Discussions quickly centre around Thad Risley who has left the group, going off to school, abandoning his girlfriend and leaving everyone upset. This theme is laced between speculations about who “likes” whom, as the young people find their relationships changing with time. Feelings are high and strangely rocky when they are distracted by a pink dirgible landing in the field beyond. We are told ” some are Zepplins and some are not.” as the boys discuss whether or not to go visit the flying visitors who have landed in Squirrel’s dad’s field. The girls arrive in the field too, having been attracted by the enormous Pink Balloon.

In the dirgible, disgorged upon the prairie we find, The Orphelines, a mixed group of young orphaned ladies from different foreign countries, travelling as part of their education. Honor, Mathilde, Taubchen, Proskovia and Daniza are adroitely played by Julianna Deutscher, Emily Talma, Jamie Calkins, Baylee Mancuso and Alexandra Zanussi. Their arrival delights the young men and sparks the curiousity of the young women, distracting them from their familiar passions. However, they are soon returned to one of their regular themes when they discover the afore-mentioned Thad Risely, played with great aplombe by Lorenzo Damiani,  has returned, helping the young ladies. He is wearing a fashionable, light Seersucker jacket. He seems to have a very high opinion of himself and his direct address lines provoked outright laughter more than once, as he expressed gauche opinions, clearly recognised as shared teenage boy faux pas by male audience members.

As the play unfolds Thad learns many lessons, love unfolds between couples and the Orphaline’s leader acts as a go-between and harmoniser, assisting Thad to start telling the truth. He has some difficulty persuading his former friends, who think he might say anything, to anyone, just to be liked. He is The Seersucker Toady of the title. As with all good tales, it all turns out well in the end, though not necessarily predictably. They cast are a splendid ensemble who have clearly worked very hard to create this charming piece of theatre. The music at either end of the show is romantic and wide, like the praries.The costumes are a beautiful collection of time appropriate pieces, worn with consummate ease . Each young person has a distinctive personality and each actor or actress presents their character with energy, understanding and warmth. Their physical manifestation of the manners of a bygone time is delightful and highlighted by the two modern narrators who share the stage with them. By the end the slick modern young people also sit upon the uncarpetted Earth with their ancestors, both Canadian and European. The cast travelled a long way to be seen on the Edinburgh stage. I am glad they made the journey to brighten the Edinburgh Fringe with their presence.

Cast: Jamie Calkins – Taubchen, Renne Crawley – Peggy, Lorenzo Damania – Thad Risley, Julianna Deutscher – Honor, Tori Grebinski – Peggy, Vanessa LaGrange – Alberta, Baylee Mancuso – Proskovia, Carson Meyer – Squirrel, Andres Moreno – Cobb, Gina Omilon – Chips,  Emily Talma – Mathilde, Brett Van der Voort – Hamish, Chantelle Waschuk – Louise, Alexandra Zanussi – Daniza; Crew: Stage Manager – Dylan Ames, Backstage – Keith Davis, Sound – Karl Deutsher, Lighting Design – Ben Edwards, Props Master – Meaghan Kroetsch, Backstage – Amber Severin,

Director – Melissa Mayville, Technical Design – Leigh Smithson, Costume Design – LeeAnn Arsenault,

Make-up and Hair – Tracey Millar, Assistant Director – Kelsey Penney, Playwright – Stewart Lemoine, Producer – Red Deer Catholic Regional Division # 39 Chaperone – Glen Traquair, Chaperone – Jennifer Warder

The Company : American High School Theatre Festival: Ecole Secondaire Notre Dame, Alberta, Canada

( c )Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2010

reviewed Wednesday 25th August

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