JC’s Theatre Spotlight – Community Theatre presents Two Choice Period Pieces

Two period pieces on Halifax stages, two true stories of charismatic female characters, what the heck …??  This must be an influx of edgy new indie theatre! 

Or …

It could be the new season of local community theatre. 

So … do you prefer World War I-era Halifax, or World War II-era New York City? 

Let’s start in the Big Apple, with Glorious, the story of Florence Foster Jenkins.  When I first heard that name, what came to mind was an American Olympic sprinter.  Wrong.  Jenkins was a New York socialite and wannabe soprano.  In her mid-70s, Jenkins finally played Carnegie Hall, at the demands of her throngs of adoring fans, a group that included the likes of Cole Porter and Enrico Caruso.  The only catch was – she was a horrible singer.  Absolutely repugnantly bad.  Which apparently made for a wonderful evening of theatre.  Well, it does at Dartmouth Players anyway.  Thanks to Cathy Cameron who bravely takes on the lead role.  With a special nod to the recent arrival via Toronto, Kevin Jollimore, who adds a subtly comic touch in the role of the ever-tipsy British “boyfriend” of 35 years, actor St. Clair Byfield.

Having listened to some of the few existing recordings of Florence Foster Jenkins, I can report that Cameron does a pretty thorough job of portraying the vocal skills of what one historian billed as “the world’s worst opera singer”.  She may even hold back a tiny smidge on the terrible … gratefully.

What the story does NOT go into is Jenkins’ untreated syphilis, but I’m guessing that may have added a touch too heavy a note to Peter Quilter’s charming 2005 comedy.

This show is rich in texture and drips with humour that doesn’t just poke at the high fliers of New York society in the dying days of WWII, it allows most of the socialite characters to be in on the joke … with the exception of Florence. 

Isabella, at Bedford Players, is promoted as “A Story Of the Halifax Explosion”, but the Explosion serves more as a backdrop to a remarkable human story.  Briony Merritt stars in the title role (based on the real life Isabella Sudds), as a Halifax woman who battles insurmountable losses in her life … and somehow manages to keep moving forward with her life.  It’s a damn depressing story at times, as you might expect of a First World War story set here in our harbour town, but there’s an inspirational quality about Isabella that is ultimately uplifting. 

Isabella is one of those local stories you’re glad to see finally being told.  Even if it took a hundred years.  Director/playwright, Karen L. Waterfield is to thank for it.  And you can see Isabella at Bedford Players until November 18th.

This reminds me, by the way, of an upcoming treat from Eastern Front Theatre.  Lullaby: Inside The Halifax Explosion has been playing schools for the past couple months, and is currently on a 10-stop tour of Nova Scotia.  Join me this Friday night at Chester Playhouse if you’d like a preview of the show before its Halifax opening on November 23rd.

Also on the playbill in the near future are two Neptune Theatre gems.  First, the always impressive – and I mean IMPRESSIVE – Youth Performance Company features 19 super-talented 13-18 year old “triple threats” discovering “what it means to be Canadian”, and setting it to music.  My Side Of The Country runs from November 15-19, six shows in total.  One of the best theatrical productions I’ve ever seen in Halifax was the YPCo production of Avenue Q in 2014.  I’d seen the show twice on Broadway, it’s one of my favourites, and I’m pretty sure the Broadway stars would have been blown away.

And – speaking of Neptune – it’s only DAYS now until the re-opening of the renovated Fountain Hall.  I can’t wait to see this thing, the advance word is amazing.  And the perfect production to open with is George Pothitos’ swan song, his adaptation of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, from November 21 – December 31.