Prairie Theatre Exchange season serves up sweet comedy, piquant drama

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If Prairie Theatre Exchange were celebrating a 44th anniversary, gift guides would suggest a present of gourmet food.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/03/2016 (2398 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If Prairie Theatre Exchange were celebrating a 44th anniversary, gift guides would suggest a present of gourmet food.

Instead, PTE is observing its 44th season with a menu of five plays for its 2016-17 season. And if they’re not overtly gourmet in tone, the offerings are appropriately locavore — all Canadian works — with a selection of savoury and sweet, provocative and familiar, with a little artisinal/heritage contribution in observance of Canada’s upcoming sesquicentennial.

Artistic director Robert Metcalfe is especially proud that, in keeping with the food theme, PTE is growing its own. One of the keystone plays of the season is The Flats (Jan. 25-Feb. 12) by Manitoba playwright Ginny Collins, a member of its PTE Playwrights Unit, which has an agenda of creating new plays by local voices.

SUPPLIED Mom’s the Word is a comic exploration of motherhood.

Set in Churchill, it’s a mystery that centres on a dead man found on the titular wrong-side-of-the-tracks turf, sparking an investigation that ropes in a number of quirky town residents.

“There’s no such thing as a boring person in Churchill,” Collins says of her time up north researching the play during an artist residency last year. “Everyone’s got a story to tell.

“I chose to set my play in Canada’s North because the northern experience exemplifies the resilience and heartiness that make up a big part of our identity as Canadians.”

“The fact that it’s so quintessentially Manitoban is part of the attraction of doing that project,” Metcalfe says, adding the play will be produced in French with the same actors for a run at Le Cercle Molière following the PTE run.

A historic play set before Canada was a country, Elle (Feb. 22-March 12) is a sesquicentennial-ready adaptation of a novel by Douglas Glover mostly set in the year 1542. It follows an unmanageable French noblewoman named Marguerite de Roberval who’s sent to the wilds of the New World in Jacques Cartier’s time and abandoned on the Isle of Demons (now known as Hospital Island, off the coast of Newfoundland) by her uncle. Actress Severn Thompson both adapted and stars in the play, which played earlier this year at Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto.

THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE Severn Thompson in Elle.

“It’s a great story of her survival,” says Metcalfe. “In the usual literary Canadian narrative, people come over and the harshness of the land is tamed and the beauty is discovered. But she doesn’t tame the land, she learns to live inside it. It takes the usual Canadian narrative of our colonization of the land and actually flips it on its head.”

Metcalfe avoids using the word “sombre” to describe season opener The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble (Oct. 12-30), a drama by Beth Graham (The Drowning Girls) about a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease planning a strategy to contend with the illness that claimed her own mother.

“It’s just a really beautiful and honest look at a family going through this horrible reality,” Metcalfe says. “The subject matter is so present in people’s lives. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful.”

PTE goes a bit retro with Mom’s the Word (Nov. 9-27), a comic exploration of motherhood through monologues and stories from a cast of “mom-certified” actresses. The show originated in Vancouver in 1993.

“That’s really old for what I’m trying to do at PTE,” Metcalfe says. “But when I reread it, I had forgotten how funny it is. I had also forgotten how it covered a lot of aspects of motherhood and parenthood. It’s very, very moving. There’s all sorts of struggles that the women in the show go through.

THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE Elle is set off the coast of Newfoundland in 1542.

“It really is well-written and touching,” Metcalfe says of this fresh iteration, produced in collaboration with Victoria’s Belfry Theatre. “There’s a whole new generation of women having children that aren’t aware of this show, because they were probably very young when it was written, so it would be great to have a show for them as well as everybody else.”

The PTE season-ender, The Birds and the Bees (March 29-April 16, 2017) by Mark Crawford is a sex comedy in which the avian/insect reference in the title is literal. Sarah is a 40-something woman trapped in a loveless marriage, spending her days artificially inseminating turkeys on her farm; Ben is a 23-year-old virgin entomologist studying the decline of the bee population.

This is the only PTE play of the season written by a man, Metcalfe says. “It is a comedy, but it’s got a lot more resonance to it, as opposed to just being for yuks, like some British door farce of some kind.

“We’re looking at people and their need for connection and love and wholeness — Mark’s done a really lovely job at making it true to its comic form, and also keeping the characters flawed and human enough that the circumstances could fall out the way that they do.”

• • •

THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE Severn Thompson in Elle.

PTE will be renewing subscribers in the lobby during the run of the upcoming Rick Chafe comedy Marriage: A Demolition in Two Acts. New subscribers will be able to purchase season tickets in June when they go on sale to the public. Season tickets are available by calling the PTE box office at 240-942-5483.

randall.king@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @FreepKing

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THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE Jonathan Fisher and Severn Thompson in Elle.
SUPPLIED Winnipeg playwright Ginny Collins.
Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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