Our Shining Stars - A sentimental journey

Our Shining Stars
2012 Charity Event
Strange Angel Productions
The ARTS Project
May 26

In proud support of the Canadian Cancer Society, Strange Angel productions presented Our Shining Stars – an evening consisting of five separate plays with a common theme: tragedy.

At some point in our lives, whether directly or indirectly, we all have to deal with cancer. It affects us all. All of the plays featured this year were set in different times, with different people, all affected by death. What Our Shining Stars shows us is that human beings share the same feelings when dealing with a loss of a loved one, that there is unity between these people. The host of the evening and one of the playwrights, Linda-lee Armstrong, dedicated this fundraising event to someone she lost to cancer, Lynn Doelle.

Note: All Five plays were stage managed by Anne Cuthbert and the lighting design for each was done by Pete Pownall (with one exception: Skin Deep was co-stage managed by Tia Morin and Sound was designed by Lisa DesGroseilliers)

Patches of Fog
Written by Lucy Williams
Directed by Sue Perkins
Played by Lucy Williams (Connie), Barb Chambers (Lorna)

Patches of Fog is about a woman named Connie; a widow suffering dementia (but is simultaneously sharp as a tack and sometimes uses her dementia to get away with some naughty behavior). Connie has lost the love of her life to cancer, and Lorna, who is like a daughter to her, takes care of her. Lorna’s mother was one of Connie’s best friends, and when she passed away (not passing grade school, as Connie points out) giving birth to Lorna, Connie raises her as her own. Since Connie is a white woman raising a black girl, they both had to deal with issues of racism. Ultimately, cancer does not recognize race, age, gender or religion.

The relationship between the two women was believable; the intimacy that developed between the two women over their losses, trials, and ultimately, love, sincere.

Since there were only two women performing the play, they had to reveal many of the historical facts about the other people in their lives through the dialogue. So while some of what they said did not seem natural to a conversation, I understood the necessity of it.

The set (a park bench – simple and understated), the sound (birds chirping), props and lighting all helped set the right atmosphere.

Patches of Fog was very endearing; the chemistry between Williams and Chambers was very real; the play enjoyable – especially Connie’s sense of humour.

The Girl with Red Hair
Written and directed by Joan Clayton
Played by Jessica Ducharme (Annie), Kevin Curnutte (Frederick), Adam J. Langton (Jurgen), Abbey Seltzer (Eva), Mathieson Goddard (German soldier).

Annie is a young woman who lost her beloved Frederick in the Second World War. Eva is a woman determined to start a new life in Canada. Jurgen, is a bartender who is in love with Annie. Will he be Annie’s second chance at love?

The set and props filled the stage; there were often two scenes happening at once; flashbacks from different times occurred often. Annie’s boudoir reminds her of everything that she is missing – Frederick (who actually visits her often as a ghost) – but in this play, what doesn’t? That is believable. So she spends a lot of time drinking at a bar where she meets Jurgen and he quickly becomes enraptured in her copper eyes and red hair. Also believable.

This play attempts to look at the harsh realities of war but its melodramatic writing, direction and performances overshadow its message.

Perhaps this production would have benefited from having a director with a healthy distance from the script. The writing and performances was a tad confusing and disjointed. There were many different acting styles going on – reminiscent of a forties melodrama. This play would benefit from a work shopping of the script.

Skin Deep
Written by Trish West
Directed by Leigh Paylor/Desiree Baker
Played by Trish West (Rachel), Mathieson Goddard (Paul), Kayla Harper (Sarah), Kaela From (Samantha)

Spoiler Alert

Skin Deep is a play that confronts the issue of female body image. The media bombards us all constantly with how we should dress, what make-up to wear, what miracle anti-aging cream to use, but it rarely focuses on the beauty within.

This play dares to go there.

Rachel is a mother, who, like many women, compares herself to models in magazines and wonders if she is desirable (even though she is aware enough to know that the negative images of women are media driven). What woman on the planet can’t relate to feeling less than perfect when compared to airbrushed models in magazines and on TV? For Rachel, it is even harder since she is a survivor of cancer and must wear wigs and scarves due to the effects of chemotherapy.

Rachel wants to teach her two daughters that they must love themselves for who they are, not for what they look like. This is a huge battle, but she is no stranger to fighting.

The staging, costumes (I especially loved Samantha’s superman shirt!), props were great as they all contributed to creating a warm atmosphere, a home for this family.

I absolutely loved this play. I laughed, I held back tears at the end, and I could really feel the emotional connections between all of the characters. I was not left wanting for anything else; this play was graceful in a way that could only be the work of someone who really understands and appreciates the life and experiences that were portrayed. Kudos to playwright West.

And in her portrayal of Rachel, West was especially good. From her channel surfing to interaction with her husband and children to taking off her make-up and bra, relaxing, and unwinding from the day – it was all very realistic.

But West was ably supported by a very believable family: Mathieson Goddard as her husband and Kayla Harper and Kaela From as her daughters.

The media isn’t going anywhere; it is here to stay for good or ill. Skin Deep reminds us it is so important for mothers to teach their daughters how to think critically of the images they see and ask themselves what is really being said in them – to question the motives of the messengers.

A life-long battle it would appear. 

A Penny for your Thoughts
Written and directed by Maridon Duncanson
Played by Shana Train (Penny Montgomery), Shane Davis (Private Peter Johnson), Amanda Martin (Mildred Payne), Paul Cottle (postman)

Spoiler Alert

An inherent innocence was the prevailing mood in A Penny for your Thoughts. Penny is a sweet, but poor young girl with a very big imagination and enthusiasm towards life. Likewise, Private Peter Johnson is also optimistic towards life even though he is living in a hellish situation on the Front during the War. Their romance begins with them as pen pals, writing letters and Penny sending him socks and scarves that she has knitted herself. Both characters are so busy that they barely have time to write to each other, but this is what keeps them both marching on in their lives.

The costumes were very good and appropriate to the time. Johnson’s uniform and Penny’s bonnet and working-class dress and apron recreated the wartime atmosphere.

The earnestness and innocence of the characters was believable and sweet, which made me expect a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ kind of ending, which is exactly what happened (with a twist!).

Some constructive criticism I have for this play: the use of the postman – coming off the stage and waiting for the postman seemed unnecessary; as well, the back and forth of the letters could have been more fluid if lighting and shadows had been used, rather than exiting and re-entering the stage.
All in all, a very bittersweet play.

The Park Bench
Written by Linda-lee Armstrong
Directed by Elizabeth V. Newman
Played by Charlene McNabb (Anna) Chris McAuley (Ben), Kevin Curnutte (Marty)

Spoiler Alert

In The Park Bench, two young people meet one fateful day that will be the beginning of the rest of their lives.

Anna has been cheated on a few times, and this one particular incident brings her to the park bench where she wants to be left alone to cry. Ben, a light-hearted photographer begins snapping her picture without asking. This starts an awkward first conversation but soon leads to more when Anna discovers that Ben is more than she first thought. He’s actually been though a lot worse, and his optimism towards life inspires Anna to trust in love again.

This play was ultra-romantic and sentimental. The park bench is the spot that marks many changes in their life and their lives together as a couple. This significance was also highlighted even more so with the planting of trees for every lost loved one, including their son, Ben’s parents, and then Ben himself (do we assume cancer?).

The set was much like the first play with a park bench, bright lights, trees. The costumes changed to signal the different stages of their lives; Anna wore a hippie-chic fashion in her twenties, and then as she matures she dresses accordingly. Ben also starts off in sneakers and then ends in a dress suit after they’ve been married for many years and had children.

Anna must lose another man in the end, but this time, it is not to cheating. Marty, the landscaper of the park, leaves her flowers one day on a bench. Maybe a new love is around the corner? Ben encouraged her to keep her heart open and look for love after he leaves. He just wants her to be happy.

Some of us are stronger, and some of us are weaker. When it comes to death, there is no right or wrong. There is only change, and continuing on. Hearts are broken, lessons are learned, but sometimes, there are no answers to the hard questions we have when someone we love is taken away from us. For the living, we hold hands and move forward. Life is not one thing, but a series of many things – from the tragic to the delightful, and sometimes, even hilarious.

If sentimentality is your thing, you’d love this play.

It was inspiring to see how many people came out last night to Our Shining Stars. Cancer was the theme, but love was at its core.

Sara Piszel studied English at York University. She currently resides in London where there is an abundance of art to explore and write about. Come back soon to check out Sara's reviews of London Fringe 2012!

Photo Top: Trish West by Richard Gilmore; Patches Of Fog: Barb Chambers, Lucy Williams; The Girl With Red Hair: Jessica Ducharme, Kevin Curnutte; Skin Deep: Trish West, Mathieson Goddard, Kayla Harper, Kaela From; A Penny For Your Thoughts: Shana Train,Shane Davis; The Park Bench: Charlene McNabb, Chris McAuley. Photos by Richard Gilmore