Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/1/2012 (3534 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In 2008, Dennis Garnhum, artistic director of Theatre Calgary, was browsing in a Vancouver bookstore.
He glanced at the jacket of the recently published Lost: A Memoir, noticed it was by a Calgary writer named Cathy Ostlere -- a former Winnipegger -- and bought it without much thought.
He found himself immediately engrossed in Ostlere's true account of how, in 1995, she left behind her husband, who had been battling cancer, and three young children and embarked on a grief-soaked odyssey to solve a mystery.
What had happened to her 35-year-old brother David and his British girlfriend Sarah, who disappeared while sailing their small yacht from Ireland to the island of Madeira, off the coast of Morocco?
Why did the two free spirits leave their families feeling lost, full of anger and disbelief that the pair had attempted such a risky -- perhaps foolhardy -- adventure on the Atlantic?
Even before he finished the book, Garnhum was convinced that Lost: A Memoir would make a powerful play. It's now a one-woman drama performed by Alberta actor Jan Alexandra Smith, opening tonight at Prairie Theatre Exchange after successful runs in Calgary and Halifax.
The 90-minute show is performed on a steel-and-glass set that incorporates a "sea" of actual water. It has been praised as a moving, uplifting account of "one woman's journey to find and reclaim her life."
Ostlere, 54, grew up in Fort Richmond and earned an English degree at the University of Manitoba. David, to whom she was very close, was two years younger. He earned a science degree at U of M and left the city for a globe-trotting existence at age 28. Their parents and two older siblings still live in Winnipeg.
Ostlere recalls how apprehensive she was about teaming with Garnhum to write the stage adaptation.
"My first response was, 'Oh my God, I thought I was done with this story,'" she says. "I had taken, I think, nine years wrestling with this. It's my story as well, not just David and Sarah's. I thought, 'We're going to enter into this story again? Do I actually have the strength?'"
Lost: A Memoir was Ostlere's first book. It spoke frankly about her own past as a world traveller, her strained marriage and feelings of being personally adrift as she went first to Madeira and then Scotland, where the couple had lived, to try to understand David's actions.
She suffered so much in writing it that friends suggested she fictionalize the story to feel less exposed.
"I never considered it for even a moment," she says. "I demanded of myself to tell the truth. I felt David and Sarah had been very bold, and I needed to match their boldness."
The book included only one photo, of Cathy and David as kids aged about seven and five. The play incorporates many projected photos, so the audience sees the actual people in the story. Smith, the actress, brings strong physicality to the characters of Cathy and about a dozen others.
"She's just a force of nature," says Ostlere. "I am not like the (Cathy) character. She is much louder, much bolder in her emotions, which is necessary for this story.
"I allowed myself to watch (the play) as the sister and the daughter on the very last show in Calgary. Up until that point, I was watching it as the writer. My older brother was with me. . . . It was incredibly moving for me."
Ostlere, who published a young-adult novel called Karma last year, is now divorced and in another relationship. Her children are in their 20s. Her parents, both 88 years old, were unable to see the play in Calgary or Halifax but may see it in Winnipeg, she says.
A Calgary filmmaker has optioned Lost and Ostlere is now co-writing the screenplay.
She was the only family member David told about the daring voyage he was undertaking. He didn't want his parents to worry, but it became an awful burden for his sister to carry.
She considered calling the book Icarus's Sister. "The boy who flew too close to the sun: that's how I felt at the time about my brother -- that he had dared too much."
Today, she says, "My belief is that David's goal was to experience life as a free man -- free of expectations of family, society, country, world. He wanted, perhaps, to feel completely independent, completely responsible for his being. . . . I think my brother and Sarah were very brave people."
The difficult journey of sharing the story has made her life much richer, Ostlere says. "I say yes now to almost everything that comes my way. . . . Because of this book and this play, I am more in the world."
Ostlere will sign books and give readings from both Lost: A Memoir and Karma on Monday at 7:30 p.m. at McNally Robinson Booksellers, Grant Park.
Lost: A Memoir
Prairie Theatre Exchange
Opens tonight, to Feb. 5
Tickets $25 to $45 at 942-5483 or www.pte.mb.ca