Drama – most families experience it; some thrive upon it.
In the case of Marion Bridge, the newly-formed Banff Theatre Company could be said to be both taking root as a community theatre family and staging a heart-felt play about family.
Marion Bridge, by Nova Scotia playwright Daniel MacIvor, will be the fledgling company’s inaugural production and features company founder and actor Jane MacDonald, along with cast members Laurie Schwartz and Kim Macklin.
The two-act Marion Bridge will be staged at The Banff Centre’s Margaret Greenham Theatre, Tuesday and Wednesday, May 17-18 at 7:30 p.m.
“I first discovered the play at an acting workshop about five years ago,” said MacDonald. “I heard a girl do a monologue from the play and it really struck me. When I looked into it, I realized it was written really well and was very East Coast.”
Marion Bridge is set in the Cape Breton community of the same name, where three sisters, Agnes, Theresa and Louise, gather in response to their mother’s ailing health.
Agnes, the eldest sister, is an alcoholic, under-employed actress living in Toronto who has reluctantly returned home. Theresa is a nun who has assumed responsibility for her mother’s care, while Louise, the youngest, is perceived as strange; a social misfit. The play takes place in the kitchen and living room of the family home.
“Getting this play ready has been a big learning curve,” said MacDonald. “Luckily, though, The Banff Centre has generously helped us out. It wouldn’t have happened without their help.”
The minimalist set design is by The Banff Centre’s Robert Rombaugh and light and sound has been created by students in the Centre’s work studies program. “They’ve all been great for us,” said MacDonald, “without production support, this wouldn’t have happened at all.”
Having put out a casting call that presented some difficulty, the cast has now been rehearsing for seven weeks. “Actually, I know Laurie and I knew I wanted to work with her,” said MacDonald. “Hers is a demanding role and she has a strong background in theatre.
“But when I had a casting call for the Louise character, nobody showed up and I thought it wasn’t going to happen. But suddenly Kim, who is a friend of Laurie’s showed up at the right moment and I knew she was perfect.
“That made me think it was meant to be and that we should keep going. The girls have worked hard and have been very committed; it’s been a good process.”
With staging just days away, MacDonald admits to having the usual mixed emotions as a play nears readiness. “It’s kind of like having cold feet at a wedding – there’s a feeling of ‘what have I done?’, but we have to go through with it now.”
In Marion Bridge, each sister is very different from the others, which allows for exploration of character, family bickering and differences in shared perceptions.
For Agnes, said MacDonald, “there is tension between the mother and daughter and Agnes can’t let go. But she’s turning her life around and in the play, each sister goes on a journey. They all start in one place and end up in a different place.
“There is drama and high emotion, but it’s well balanced with light moments. It has a fast-paced, natural dialogue and it’s really fun to perform as an actor.”
Along with assistance from The Banff Centre, the actors are working in a self-directed manner, although Susanne Gillies-Smith has been consulting on direction as Marion Bridge moves forward. “And Sharon Fish came on board as stage manager,” said MacDonald.
In taking on Marion Bridge, MacDonald is hoping the play is the first of many for the Banff Theatre Company. “I knew there would be difficult times, but I wanted to do the play so bad…
“And there are always people in town who show interest in community theatre and say they’d love to be involved. This is a well-written play and I think a lot of people will connect with it.”
Tickets for Marion Bridge are $15 for adults and $12 for youth and seniors and available through The Banff Centre’s ticket office at 403-762-6301.