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N.B. actor getting her foot in the stage door

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Erin McGrath is relatively new to Winnipeg and still focused on trying to make a name for herself in the theatre community.

First, however, everyone has to pronounce that name properly. While it is spelled McGrath, it is pronounced McGraw.

"It's because I'm from a stubborn Irish family," says the 27-year-old New Brunswick export. "When the Irish came over they either changed the spelling or allowed it to be pronounced McGrath. I guess we allowed it."

Whatever they call her, she has been more successful this summer garnering attention on local stages. Since the curtain dropped on the regular theatre season in May, McGrath has appeared in the Shakespeare in the Ruins production of Othello, as the female lead of the latest re-mount of Strike! The Musical and starting tonight will play Perdita in the rarely produced Bard work The Winter's Tale.

"It's been hard to get work here," says the Wolseley resident. "It takes a while to be known. If you can hire someone you know, who you are sure can do the job, why would you hire the girl you're not sure can do the job?

"But I'm on the brink of being discovered. People are definitely getting to know me."

McGrath landed here four years ago with her future husband Christopher Brauer, who had just been hired as a theatre professor at the University of Winnipeg. For a young actress who had missed all the auditions and had no contacts, the first year here was grim and forced her to fixate on the weather.

"I grew up with cold winters on the East Coast but it doesn't go down to 50 below," she says over tea in the village recently. "It was kind of bleak."

McGrath was first sighted as a rebellious teenager in MTC Warehouse's production of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing. She has since mostly been forced out of town to find work until this year, when she snagged a plum role as the lusty Monica in Theatre Projects Manitoba's Age of Arousal.

She's making her debut with Tom-Tom Theatre Co-op, which is staging The Winter's Tale at U of W's Canwest Centre for Theatre & Film. It's known as a problem play because it appears to be two strikingly different plays jammed together.

The first appears to be a tragedy about how Leontes, King of Sicilia, suspects his pregnant wife Hermione is having an affair with his best buddy Polixenes, King of Bohemia. His jealous rage destroys his entire family.

The second part takes place 16 years later in Bohemia, where Hermione's rescued daughter Perdita is in love with Polixenes' son, Prince Florizel, amid a lot of dancing, singing and clowning.

"It's a wacky show," says McGrath, who occasionally performs the violin on stage. "It really is about finding that love and that trust. After being in Othello, I think Shakespeare really has a thing for husbands turning like this on their wives and then regretting it."

The Winter's Tale runs Sept. 10-12 and 15-19 at 8 p.m. plus a 2 p.m. matinee Sept. 13. Tickets are $15, $10 for students, seniors and theatre professionals.

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Sharon Bajer had an ulterior motive for opting to co-direct her Dostoyevsky adaptation To the Country with her live-in boyfriend Carson Nattrass.

"It's experimental theatre, right," says the well known actress/playwright, "and this is part of the experiment."

Bajer and Nattrass, a longtime item, have set a wedding date of next July 3.

"I figured if we can get through this, we can probably marry," she says. "This is the acid test."

It didn't hurt that Nattrass was out of town during technical rehearsals, she adds, laughing.

It was Bajer who conceived To the Country, which also opens tonight at the Gas Station Theatre. She was taken by the Dostoyevsky short story White Nights and converted to the stage.

"It took place in St. Petersburg but it completely expressed for me what it was like to live in Winnipeg," says Bajer, who gave birth to the couple's first child, Theodore, seven months ago. "When spring arrives in both cities the people burst out of their homes and take off to the country."

Her version is set in 1920 Winnipeg, where the reclusive Ivan (Ross McMillan) and Nastenka (Daria Puttaert) meet over five nights. Bajer takes audiences literally into the mind of Ivan, who speaks to houses. The co-directors bring that to life through film, puppetry and masks.

To the Country runs nightly at 8 p.m. until Sept. 19, along with a Sept. 13 matinee. Tickets are $15 and can be reserved by calling 775-5467.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 10, 2009 D3

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