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Community Acts

Profile: Barbara Rhodenizer

by Jane Ledwell

For community theatre stalwart Barbara Rhodenizer, an early stage experience came in Grade Three when her family was living in Ontario, dancing ballet in a perfect tutu and beribboned shoes—“with my ribbons trailing along behind me,” she laughs. She still remembers that she carried on through the performance, ribbons notwithstanding, and was buoyed by praise she received for of continuing through mishap and adversity.

On stage, in theatre, she says, “You never know what’s going to happen, even if you know what’s supposed to happen,” and while she claims not to love improv or freefall, she adores the collective problem-solving and ingenuity of making community theatre. “A production in community theatre begins with a passion to see something done,” she says. “People have no idea of the effort and the will—a play is a testament of will to see these little dreams realized.”

Every role, on the stage or in the wings, is important to realizing the dream. “I’ve had a chance to be involved in most areas of theatre, from front of house to making costumes, to rounding up props, to stage managing—though I don’t have the temperament for that,” she smiles. “As an actor, that experience gives you a better-defined appreciation of what’s going on to make you look the best you can be.”

Barbara says, “For me, theatre is a complement to another life.” She recalls, “Of course, I had stars in my eyes at one time… In my early twenties, I headed to Toronto to see if I could carve a niche for myself in the theatre world. I learned a lot about myself, but I wasn’t prepared properly… I didn’t have a thick enough skin. And I realized I needed a little more stability in my life, a more regular income. So I came home to make a career, marry, have a family…” Even with other commitments, she has become a familiar name on the program of many plays. “Given the size of the Island, it’s amazing how much is done. It’s culturally so vibrant.”

Having participated in both professional and community theatre, and hybrids such as Christmas pantomimes at Confederation Centre, she notes the differences. In a professional theatre, she says, “Things are timed out beautifully, beautifully planned and executed.” There are more specialized tasks, rather than “everyone doing a little of everything.”

“In community theatre,” she says, “everyone has to pitch in. If a scene needs a kitchen table and chairs, you might bring in your kitchen table and chairs.” In a professional production, tasks and timing are so specialized that stakes are higher. “If you are a dresser and twenty people have forty-five seconds for a costume change, you’d better have your act together or someone is going out without pants!”

The mistakes and miscues, though, are part of the fun and challenge. “All kinds of things happen that you hope the audience never clues in to know how unexpected that was…” she says. “If you stay with the character, it will always resolve itself, if you know who you are, if you know what you’re doing, and you know where you’re going.”

And, as an actor, “It’s different every time you step on the stage, a different energy among yourself and the other actors, a different energy from the audience.” But, Barbara says, “The interchange of energy—that’s what makes you do what you do.”

Another theatre role that Barbara loves: “I love that being in the audience, I love that I’m part of it. They’ve reached out and touched me. Sometimes in happy and silly places. Sometimes not so much.”

Barbara doesn’t regret choosing community theatre over professional theatre. “There’s part of me that’s a responsible person who had to manage a household and hold down a job. I needed that to balance out my life,” she says thoughtfully. “But it has brought a lot of joy and satisfaction to my life to be part of theatre, and I hope there will be parts to play in the future.”

The centre of things

Profile: Fraser McCallum

by Jane Ledwell

Fraser McCallum (photo: Buzz)“There’s a real opportunity to be in the centre of things in PEI,” says Fraser McCallum from a perch in the Confederation Centre of the Arts, where he is communications manager. He may not intend the double-meaning of “centre/Centre,” but the musician, actor, and sometimes-stand-up and emcee talks a lot about making a career in the place where he says the “Venn diagram” of communications and music and performance “merges.”

“You have to be open-minded, take different kinds of work, and roll with that… be ready to dive in,” he says seriously. “You can create something tomorrow if you want to.”

Hybrid careers are not news for artists in PEI. “I didn’t know if would stay in Charlottetown,” which he describes as “unlikely” in its mix of arts, culture, and heritage. “I was very excited when I realized I could make a living in Charlottetown, if I was willing to shake the trees and be patient,” he says. “Living here is a constant existential question,” Fraser says, but seven years after returning, he says “it’s becoming more and more doable.”

Fraser reflects, “I’ve just finished the busiest three to four months of my life, as publicist for Evangeline, with a new album to tour with Racoon Bandit, and a role in A Christmas Carol at the Watermark.” He admits, “I do my best work when I have a few irons in the fire… It’s like I have three things on the mantel – and they come to all look like one thing: not hobbies, but a career.

"I’m planning the next cycle and enjoying reflecting on all those pieces,” he says.

Winter is a time of introspection – but not a lot of time – says Fraser. “People often imagine this place (Confederation Centre) is sleepy in January, but it’s really alive every day, every week...

"Summer is really incredible here. It’s all hands on deck,” he says, but “what a fountain of ideas and inspiration. You grow up here and think you have Confederation Centre all figured out,” he gestures to the concourse around him. Fraser’s student summer job was as a roving Victorian Confederation Player, a program that became a Centre program the same year Fraser joined the communications staff. He says it’s amazing “getting inside, seeing what it takes to mount that kind of program.”

He is grateful for a workplace that supports creative endeavours. His band, Racoon Bandit, he says, “is one of the most important things in my life in the past five years.” Their recent album Close Your Eyes “has exceeded our expectations,” he says, launching a successful tour and ending up on a lot of “Best of 2015” lists. The band will showcase at East Coast Music and Music PEI events in 2016 and is already in the studio preparing new songs.

“Our group is always trying to please ourselves and meet our own expectations,” says Fraser. “We’re making gains in web series, TV, and film, and we still love to get a stellar review, but you have to take the small wins in such a swirling industry. The goal is not so much ‘making it big’ as making it sustainable, seeing growth with it, so the songs are getting better, the sound is getting better, the relationships in the band are getting better.”

Fraser says, “Our best stuff has always been the most collaborative,” and collaboration on creative work is what excites him most. “What I think results best at work, too, is when three of us develop something together.”

He muses, “I did stand-up, which is a solo mission—creation, performance, and aftermath are all done alone,” other than the audience. “I commend stand-ups and singer-songwriters who do that. To develop a voice is a lifelong pursuit.”

But Fraser sees collaboration as a necessary avenue to learning and growth. “It’s tricky to learn and to improve outside formal settings,” he says, but working with others “excites me more than saying, ‘Here’s my take on something.’” At the same time he admits, “I’ve probably got a solo album in me somewhere down the road.”

His favourite new collaboration is acting in community theatre, including a leading role in Our Town last year, a role he described as “more like myself—an earnest young chap,” less “big and bombastic” than the personae stand-up comedy expects.

“I learned an incredible amount,” Fraser says. The difference between community theatre and professional theatre he says is “training and intensity, and the technical side and scale,” but, he says, “Even the most last-minute community theatre production is still trying to show truth, to show audiences something they relate to.” He says, “There’s amazing depth of talent and resources in community theatre in PEI. I think this proves how intrinsic theatre and performance are to PEI.”

On the verge of turning thirty, Fraser says, “I thought I would get to this age and find that’s just how things are, you’re as good a writer as you will ever be–but what I find is I’m refining. What I’ve learned is to refine, refine, refine. I feel like I’ll be transitioning forever.”

Refining, for Fraser, means defining the centre of his unlikely, intersecting circles. “The marriage of all those things is what keeps me here,” he says, adding, “It’s what makes this a singular place.” And by “this” he means not only Confederation Centre, but Charlottetown, and PEI—centres within centres.

Writing Outside

Profile: J.J. Steinfeld

by Jane Ledwell

J.J. Steinfeld (photo: Buzz)With the new year 2016 looming, the accomplished Island writer J.J. Steinfeld muses, “If someone gave me a million dollars not to write for a year, I couldn’t in good conscience take it.” In 35 years on PEI, J. J. has published two novels, eleven short story collections, and three poetry collections. More than 40 of his one-act plays and full-length plays have seen the stage. His deftly literary catalogue is touched by his self-described “askew sense of humour and sense of the absurd” and is written under the long shadow of the Holocaust.

“This is a wonderful place to write but a hard place to be a writer,” J.J. admits with his quick, dark humour. One story in his newest collection of short stories, Madhouses in Heaven, Castles in Hell, he calls the “ultimate deconstruction of Anne of Green Gables… When you live here and try to make a life as a writer, L.M. Montgomery hovers, almost as a dark ghost,” He says. “I’ve now spent more of my writing life on PEI than either L.M. Montgomery or Milton Acorn and am still begrudgingly called an ‘Island writer’ because I was not born here.”

He says, “When I moved to PEI, in Charlottetown there were two hospitals, one Catholic and one Protestant.” As an arrivant urban Jew, he gazed wonderingly at new neighbours “who would know what hospital to go to.” He is the admiring and loving partner of dyed-in-the-wool Islander and artist Brenda Whiteway, whose work consistently explores local and rural themes, traditions, and materials. Fascination at belonging and existential certainties sits next door to J.J.’s existential angst. He asks, “What better place to write these existential thoughts than in a place that doesn’t think them?”

J.J. admits, “I’ve felt always like a little outsider, which is good for a creative person, I think. I’m attached to the idea of a literary outsider.”

To J.J. Steinfeld, writing is the desperate existential work of the imagination. An ill-prepared morning-show host who had skimmed his collection Forms of Captivity and Escape once asked, “Why write about someone who hanged himself?” and J.J. responded, “So I don’t have to do it.”

In an irony he appreciates, the writer’s imagination becomes subject to an outside imaginary that is unknowable. “Once you’re done writing, the story is reanimated by the reader – when you read it, it becomes your story. The writer needs readers or viewers or listeners.”

Most of J.J.’s readership is elsewhere, but living on such a small Island, there’s a lot of elsewhere. More than 300 of his stories and 700 of his poems have been published across Canada and in 18 countries, and a collection of essays on his writing is in the works from Guernica Press.

“All my writing is storytelling—even my poems,” he says. “I write stories and eventually put something together—something eclectic, to the consternation of publishers, who like a theme or an arc. This new book (Madhouses in Heaven, Castles in Hell) covers the arc from the absurd to the existential.”

He says, “It’s really scary now… More and more early stuff is being anthologized, and I read it and wonder, can I write that well anymore?” Shrugging, he says, “I’ve become what I always believed I was, as a construct—the angst-ridden, absurdist writer.”

In a conversation that digresses often to quotations and reflections on Isaac Bashevis Singer, Beckett, Camus, Kafka, Leonard Cohen, and Milton Acorn, J.J. says, “I get scared if I’m really working on something that if I read, sometimes my subconscious will absorb it. But it’s so important to read. You’re everything that came before you… even if there are different lineages.

“When I was young I hated to be compared to anyone. An early review asked, ‘Are we producing another Kafka on PEI?’, and I hated that.” Now I love it.”

He says, “All I have to offer to younger writers is experience. There’s no correct path.” Later, J.J. adds, “Everything I write is a footprint.” With diminishing local outlets for publishing, he feels some uncertainty of the prints he leaves on Island soil. He senses the Island is uncertain back. Out of uncertainty comes a distinctive and lasting mark. 

Animal natures

Profile: Orysia Dawydiak

by Jane Ledwell

Orysia Dawydiak (photo: Buzz)“I read pretty widely, but I don’t ever read enough.” Author Orysia Dawydiak expresses the common experience of book-lovers everywhere. She has more time for reading -- and for writing -- these past few years, since retiring from work at the Atlantic Veterinary College to a self-directed farm life surrounded by sheep and dogs. And what applies to Orysia’s reading applies just as well to her writing: “I read to learn about people around the world, to take myself out of the small world I live in in North America and the West,” Orysia says. “I love to put myself in other people’s and critters’ shoes.”

In her books for young people, Kira’s Secret and the recent sequel Kira’s Quest, Orysia explores human psychology but also an undersea world of real and imagined sea life. “When I was a very young child, when I first learned to read, I first started to write to entertain myself,” Orysia says. She started the Kira trilogy inspired by her niece and reconnected with her own inner child, “the girl still in there who loves fantasy and science fiction, underlaid or overlaid – I’m not sure which – with what I know of the world as an adult and my fascination with the attitude we have as humans towards the natural environment and to sea life.”

Orysia says, “My background is in zoology, and I love understanding animals and how they cope in the world, how we’re different and how we’re the same… I also hope kids enjoy reading it without feeling they are being ‘educated.’”

Orysia’s first published book, House of Bears, was written for adults and explores in fictional form her family’s Ukrainian heritage and a story of “immigrant parents struggling for survival.” She says, “House of Bears was a project I was compelled to do since I was a young adult… I was trying to understand my mother, so I dug into her life experiences and psychology, for myself to make sense of my family history, and especially of war.”

She recalls, “I learned about war trauma at my grandmother’s knee. When I was just three or four, she described experiences from World War II that I never should have heard. I have pictures in my brain I will never be able to erase. She had shrapnel in her leg from English bombs falling on the German farm where she was working as slave labour… Trauma goes on through the generations.”

Other projects Orysia is working on include a final book in the Kira trilogy, set five years later than the first two books. She also has completed a book for young readers about a Dutch girl and her dog on a PEI dairy farm. Rika’s Shepherd has “no vampires and no zombies, but there’s trauma,” she says. “No fantasy – except ghosts, and that’s not fantasy. That’s part of who we are,” she smiles. “A lot is from my experience with dogs and life and death.”

She is also writing a memoir, but not of her own life – instead, it is the life of a beloved dog, Akkush, who “started life in Turkey and ended his life with us.” Orysia found herself “taking down notes for him since he couldn’t write it down.” Writing Akkush’s memoir helps Orysia to remember events in her own life, she says. And accessing memories is something she does not take for granted since her father’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s.

“Animals may not have the complexity that sometimes I think burdens us,” she says. “Living with them and near them taught me more empathy than I had before. I understood things about myself – sometimes things I didn’t like… But we made it up and moved on. Animals are very forgiving.”

Orysia has also pursued visual art, but, she says, “There is only so much time, and writing is what gives me the most joy. It is what really feeds my soul – and it doesn’t matter what I write, but it’s double the fun when I write something people really enjoy.

“I need to feel inspired to write something,” Orysia says, adding, “I don’t want it to feel like homework.” She is encouraged by her writing group, the “WWW” – initials which, she says, “can mean a lot of things.” She has met with these fellow women writers for over ten years now. “We all know that we’re there for each other, for just the reaffirmation that what we’re all doing is worthwhile, that it’s okay to take the time away from the nitty-gritties of life… They’re like sisters. I never had sisters, but I chose them.”

Orysia says, “I’m easily distracted by the voice that says, or my mother who says, ‘Why do you bother doing that?’ … But I’ll fight it right to the end. There’s always something that slows us down, that takes us away from what nourishes and feeds us,” Orysia says.

Over Christmas, her reading and writing will overlap as she enjoys the new anthology of Christmas stories, Snow Softly Falling, which includes a story from her and many other stories she has yet to read. “I think it’s going to be a fantastic book for the season,” she says. “It will be sitting by my bed.”

High standards

Profile: Natalie Williams Calhoun

by Jane Ledwell

Natalie Williams Calhoun (photo: Buzz)I tell my students, you have to be able to do six different things at the same time to be a professional musician,” says Natalie Williams Calhoun, but the energetic PEI Symphony cellist with the quick and quirky sense of humour doesn’t mention limiting yourself to six things.

We chat in the moments between coordinating dropping her child at school, updating websites on the fly, and performing in the pit orchestra for a preview of Evangeline. Somewhere in her schedule she also fits teaching cello and piano, conducting the senior Singing Strings, working nationwide for the Royal Conservatory of Music, and rehearsing and performing with the emergent quintet Atlantic String Machine.

Natalie’s musician parents started her on piano at age three. She later chose the cello after deciding violin was “too high-pitched and squeaky.” She laughs, “I can play the violin, but as my strings students will tell you—I suck… There is definitely a difference in personality (between violin and cello). The violin gets the showy-offy parts. My personality is more in the middle range—I’m more like the relaxed, steady, in-the-middle people.”

Says Natalie, “It takes me five years to get settled in a place and get my name known. I’m in my sixth year here in PEI, now.” Finding a place in the music community, she says, is helped by the diversity in musical styles here. “It’s challenging finding classical music performance opportunities, but that’s not unique to here—and it’s just a good reason to make things happen.”

One “happening” is the string quintet Atlantic String Machine. “Sometimes, you wonder if someone is up there and really has a plan…” she says. The quintet—five members with at least “six different lives going on”—came together as other players found themselves moving to the Island or here more frequently. “It has been my sanity-saver,” says Natalie. “It is pure joy. I can rehearse with them for three hours and not feel annoyed. Our personalities fit well, our sounds fit well… we’re all kind of quirky… I get to flex my arrangement muscles… I just think this is really blessed.” The group is planning its first recording this fall, with performances that capture their eclectic tastes and personalities.

Another “happening” came from “weird happenstance.” Natalie arrived in PEI with her husband and then-ten-month-old son and began to make connections with other stings players, and met Singing Strings co-founder Jen Clement, just as Jen’s partner and co-founder John Clement was facing Alzheimer’s. “Jen asked, how would you like to help with John and take the senior group?” Natalie recalls. Since then, “They’ve tolerated my craziness. It is a really good fit.”

This summer, Natalie led the senior Strings—18 youth between 13 and 20—to a competition in Vienna, with stops in Salzburg, Prague, and Munich.

“I was so proud of us,” Natalie says with a glow. “The competition in Vienna was tougher than the kids expected,” she admits. “They were a little overwhelmed by the high standards… but that was part of the reason for going.” And yet, she marvels, “There are professional musicians who have never played in some of those halls we got to play in. Outside Vienna, playing in these tiny little churches that have stood there so long… Who knows who might have been in these tiny little spaces before us?” Natalie is also pleased to say, “We gave people over there a concept of where PEI is and what it is.”

Getting back from Vienna has been for the youth “a bit of a let-down after a big goal, but,” Natalie says, “we’ll find other things to work towards.”

Natalie’s next goal is both local and ambitious: “I really want to make sure classical music gets to smaller communities in PEI… So much is centralized in Charlottetown and Summerside. If we focus all our attention there, we miss out. When I play weddings, I get to play in all kinds of wonderful churches with good acoustics. Why are these places left to just sit?” For Natalie Williams Calhoun, a vacant space is just another reason to create music.

Behind the curtains

Profile: Darcy Campbell

by Jane Ledwell

Darcy Campbell (photo: Buzz)From a seat in the audience, the summer performance season seems to wind down in September, as curtains close on theatre productions and concerts. But behind the curtains, for programmers in venues across the Island, the season is just heating up. This year, Charlottetown and PEI are the venue for Contact East, the Atlantic Presenters Association’s annual event to showcase “the very best of North American talent, in music, theatre, and dance” for local, regional, national and international presenters.

“Contact East is an opportunity to have conversations with colleagues from all over the world, and that’s the value of the event for me,” says Darcy Campbell, the President of the Atlantic Presenters Association and programmer for the Confederation Centre of the Arts, one of the largest venues in the region.

“Contact East offers professional development, a chance to learn about trends and problem-solving, and what issues are popping up across the country. And the event is showcasing 35+ artists.” As a programmer for a multi-disciplinary venue, Darcy says, “We’re looking a lot for up-and-coming artists, and for dance shows and theatre pieces you really need to see live to see what they’re trying to do.”

As useful as the packed formal program is, Darcy says, “The best conversations are at the bar after the event. It’s the situational stuff: you’ve had this situation, and how did you handle it?” For example, “Hospitality riders for artists: A lot contain alcohol. What do other venues do? Do they supply it or not? … What about babes in arms in the audience? What are other venues doing? Whatever the problem is, other people have probably dealt with it. You need to avoid the shocks and surprises, even to plan for scenarios that may never happen.”

Darcy smiles, “You’re seeing behind the curtain a bit, here.”

He says that Contact East brings home that “We’re blessed to have so many artists around us here … My job,” Darcy says, “is to make sure the best gets in the door.”

Darcy notes, “The Confederation Centre has a national mandate. We have to present more than just what sells or what is popular, but what we should be presenting,” Darcy says, “This is my 18th summer with Confederation Centre. I started as an usher, and I’ve worked or touched on I think every department in the building.”

His current job was one he could imagine as an ideal career, and his excitement when he first gained the job got him quickly, deeply involved with Atlantic Presenters. “I don’t know if it was my naïve innocence or lack of understanding,” he smiles, “but the APA thought, ‘We need to capture some of that enthusiasm he has,’ and I quickly got engulfed onto the board.”

Now, as president of the APA, he’s not complaining. “I don’t know if there’s another organization in the country I have more respect for. Atlantic Presenters Association is a trend leader across the country.”

Bringing Contact East home to Confederation Centre, to Charlottetown, and to PEI brings it all together for Darcy. “My personal opinion is we live in the most beautiful Atlantic Canadian province.” What makes Charlottetown different as a host is that “We really try to touch as much of PEI as possible. There are seven different locations in the Charlottetown area and across PEI. We’re proud of every one of them and sharing what’s going on pan-PEI.”

Darcy says, “We get to show that the money might not be the best in PEI, but there’s a lot we can offer as well, whether you get a day at the beach, or you get to go for a really great hike, or you get to have a lobster dinner.”

Darcy says, “We really invite everyone from far and wide from PEI to welcome people wearing [Contact East] badges.” He also says general public attendance at showcases is crucial: “The general public is there for enjoyment. Presenters are there working.” Audience engagement with a performance matters, and the general public can give presenters feedback on what they want to see.Darcy says, “I’m looking forward to Contact East starting, and the start of the contact season.” As one curtain closes, another opens.

Living with music

Profile: Deryl Gallant

by Jane Ledwell

Deryl Gallant (photo: Buzz)Just a few short years ago, Deryl Gallant had packed away his musical instruments and paused his life as a musician. With a full-time job, a busy young family, and his wife Elizabeth in an accelerated educational program, he chose not to make time for music. This year, after several years, as he says, “inching his way back in” to the music scene with his trademark supporting artistry on the bass, he won the PEI Music Award for Musician of the Year in May. In June, his family welcomed a fifth child. In August he’ll play concerts as the Doug Riley Artist at the TD PEI Jazz and Blues Festival. In September, he’ll join the orchestra for Evengeline on the Confederation Mainstage.

“I’m very proud,” Deryl says of being honoured by his musical peers, “especially with my crazy life and how busy we are. And especially since I was out of the music scene for several years. From 2007 to 2011, I only had a handful of gigs, and I’m sorry to say I just did music if I was paid to do it. Life was so busy…”

He continues, “I didn’t make time for music. I’m a patient guy—I thought, ‘I’ll get back to this later.’ It was a choice. But it was the wrong choice. I realized it was killing me. After my mother passed away during that time, it really clicked that part of my life was missing.” As he started to fill the music-sized hole in his heart, he made other changes that also helped, including a change of workplace and a move to a new house. “It rekindled my love of practising… I felt like a 17-year-old again,” Deryl says.

His “awesome” kids (who a few years back “didn’t know I was a musician”) now know “so many nights I say, ‘Be good for mommy for bedtime, daddy has to go out to play music.’” And despite joking that he has “so many kids, so little space,” when he is home, he is still often busy with music. “I’ve got headphones,” he laughs, “so I’m in the kitchen doing charts. I do things efficiently with what I’ve got.”

Deryl says his wife Elizabeth is incredibly supportive: she knows the difference between Deryl with music and Deryl without. The difference, Deryl says, is “Huge. It brings tears to my eyes, it’s so huge.”

And, after years “often being pegged as ‘that jazz guy’” because of his work with The Jive Kings or the Dennis Lee Project and other jazz-tinged projects, Deryl’s re-entry into the music scene led to many more calls for more styles of music, “mostly for upright (bass), people looking to add a bit of sophistication, or to add a different tone.” He loves supporting artists. “There are definitely some greats in the past who went from bass to stardom—but I’m not one of those guys,” he says.

As the Doug Riley Artist at the Jazz and Blues Festival, Deryl’s gigs will be “group efforts,” featuring the first public gigs for an ensemble Alan Dowling put together in January, called “The Collective”—that includes no fewer than three past Doug Riley Artists.

Doug Riley, who died in 2007, was, as Deryl says, “famous in every style of music and eventually made PEI his home… because he knew how special of a place this is.” Deryl reflects, “And yes, I could have gone to Toronto or Montreal at some point and been a 100% working, gigging bassist, but I’m so blessed to live on PEI, have a great job, and play so much great and diverse music with incredible musicians in this incredible music scene.”

As he helps raise his kids here, he hopes they’ll find music, though he has no plans to push. When they find it, he hopes most of all they don’t lose it. “I’ve seen what it does to people when they lose the love of music because of things. I’ve lived it.” He has no plans to live without music again.

A comedy about ideals

An Ideal Husband

Review by Jane Ledwell

Sir Robert Chiltern is a redoubtable politician of genius and of high moral tone, a man idealized as perfect and incorruptible by his life’s partner Lady Gertrude. Nonetheless, the politician’s success is built on a youthful act of corruption, and he must act against his principles or face public scandal when the conniving Laura Chevely takes hold of the evidence of his error and seeks to blackmail him.

Even 125 years since the play was written, Oscar Wilde’s sharp and satiric wit still provokes laughter An audience that has binge-watched Downton Abbey and House of Cards might assume the scandals of An Ideal Husband to be tame. There are no sudden deaths, natural or unnatural, or affairs, other than the imputed. And yet, in a summer production at the Watermark Theatre, the emotional intrigue of An Ideal Husband continues to engage, thanks in particular to the cast’s emotional reach.

The play finds its footing after a first scene dinner party overfilled with chatty, non-recurring characters. Under the sparkling direction of Susan Ferley, Jonathan Widdifield gives Lord Chiltern enough likeability and charisma that we want to look past his drive for power, and Malube gives Lady Gertrude nobility to mask a grasping ambition. As the diffident flirts Mabel Chiltern and Lord Goring, Leah Pritchard and Robert Tsonos cut attractive figures of self-regarding insouciance—Wilde could not have hoped for a more expressive face or better comedic instincts than Pritchard’s. As the satirically vapid and gouty representatives of a former generation with its own characteristic horribleness, John Dartt as Lord Caversham and Gracie Finley as Lady Markby give small parts heft. Finally, Rebecca Parent’s villainous Mrs. Chevely is so deliciously dissembling, so energetically evil, one wishes there were an excuse to have her enliven every scene, and I found myself quite disappointed her downfall excluded her from the third act.

With the play set in an early-20th century world of drawing rooms and studies, the sets, props, and costumes by Erin Gerofsky offer simple elegance, a tactile richness of ivories and blacks, silvers and tweeds—all appropriately high-maintenance and not-quite-practical, giving the servants something always to attend to between dramatic scenes.

In his introductory remarks at the opening of the play, The Watermark Theatre’s founding (and soon to be out-going) artistic director Duncan McIntosh was at pains to insist that An Ideal Husband was selected for this season long before the series of events that led his partner, Wade MacLauchlan, to the Premier’s seat, and that it is not a mirror of life—not least because “an ideal husband,” is a thing he says that does not exist.

It’s bittersweet to see Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband the summer after Wilde’s native Ireland voted for marriage equality, given the program tells us the playwright promoted this play to pay legal bills for his trial and imprisonment for living out his sexual orientation. As it stands, Wilde’s An Ideal Husband is less about husbands than about ideals, a comedy in which intrigues of politics and character provide the drama and Wilde’s witticisms provide the levity. Wilde’s is a comedy of manners, and the argument in Wilde’s play is between optimism and pessimism, not between innocence and cynicism, and Lord Chiltern is not an anti-hero in the manner of contemporary television. Perhaps in our era of clay-footed idols, we are better prepared to delight in the perfectly imperfect.

Events Calendar

January 2019
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Some Upcoming Events

The Shack Wacky Review

With Patrick Ledwell and Mark Haines  February 2
PEI Brewing Co Join comedian Patrick Ledwell  [ ... ]

Confederation Centre: Art Gallery exhibi...

Open daily Wafaa Bilal: 168:01 Until January 20 The solo exhibition of new and recent work by New [ ... ]

Bluegrass at the Carriage House

February 3
Beaconsfield Carriage House Janet McGarry and Wildwood, a favourite PEI band, will be fea [ ... ]

Recent News & Articles

2019 FIN Kids Film Competition

Call for entries The 2019 FIN Kids Film Competition Call for Entries is officially open f [ ... ]

Music PEI Canadian Songwriter Challenge

In partnership with ECMA 2019 Music PEI and ECMA 2019 have announced a partnership bringing togethe [ ... ]

The facilitator

Profile: Steve Bellamy by Jane Ledwell “Arts are ways into emotions. Arts are where we connect, [ ... ]