Waiting for the Parade
Review by Sean McQuaid
Your postwar prattler has always had a soft spot for World War II — as an artistic subject, anyway. The real–life historical conflict may have been a tragic disaster that killed millions and damaged millions more, but there’s lots to like in that era's artistic output and the war has inspired many period pieces in subsequent decades.
One such piece is Waiting for the Parade, penned by Texas–born, Alberta–based playwright John Murrell in 1977 and oft–remounted since then, most recently at the venerable Kings Playhouse in Georgetown. Murrell’s script explores the lives of five Calgary women on the home front during World War II, played here by Samantha Bruce, Grace Kimpinski, Madeleine Mitchell, Hannah Morgan and Playhouse executive director Haley Zavo.
Murrell’s women include haughty Janet (Zavo), self-righteous leader of local volunteer activities supporting the war effort, overcompensating for her husband dodging military service; lonely Catherine (Mitchell), who endures her spouse’s overseas military service through a mix of factory work, alcohol and infidelity; mousey Eve (Morgan), an idealistic pacifist schoolteacher whose older husband is a bitterly jingoistic warmonger; blunt Margaret (Kimpinski), an aging widow with one son at war and one in jail; and proud Marta (Bruce), a defiantly nonconformist German immigrant whose father is jailed as a supposed spy.
Justifiably angry, fatalistically funny and wearily resilient, outsider Marta is the story’s most fascinatingly multi–layered character, played with pleasingly ambiguous comic aplomb by Bruce. Murrell's unsympathetic insider Janet is a ploddingly predictable establishment heavy by comparison, but a nuanced performance here makes her more than a cartoon villain in moments such as Zavo’s eloquently silent sadness in the play’s final scene.
Mitchell’s entertaining work as flawed–but–vital Catherine hits comedic and dramatic notes with equal élan, while a winningly well–cast Morgan and a matter–of–fact Kimpinski capably land many of the show's bigger laugh lines.
Director Susan Hammond–Bruce keeps her staging commendably simple. The play's handful of settings is represented by a shifting assortment of furnishings and props often moved around by the cast themselves, with the actors literally and figuratively doing most of the heavy lifting.
Period music (both recorded and live) and numerous sound effects help convey varied moods and situations, though scene changes feel inconsistent in this regard — some of the scene–shifting blackouts are covered by music or sound effects but others are not, making the latter more awkwardly conspicuous transitions since the scene changers are often somewhat visible or audible.
That's a relatively peripheral element, though, as is one of this production's nicer extras: a collection of war memorabilia curated by Wayne Hambly and displayed in the lobby evokes the play's time period while offering a solemnly tangible reminder of the people whose wartime sacrifices helped secure our modern freedoms.