Shadow Theatre focuses on local writers next season

Elena Porter, Julien Arnold, Linda Grass in The Wrong People Have Money, Shadow Theatre. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux.

By Liz Nicholls,

Shadow Theatre will finish its current season — but not until the fall.

The Wrong People Have Money, the Shadow season finale with the resonant title (I can see you nodding), was to have premiered at the end of April. In updated news, says artistic director John Hudson, it will premiere Oct. 21 to Nov. 8 at the Varscona Theatre. 

“Since we now can’t do everything we planned,” says Hudson of the new reality that saw the cancellation of Shadow’s production of Heisenberg after just three performances, “we’re committing to the new plays by local writers. That’s our priority.” So premieres of plays by McColm, Conni Massing, and Darrin Hagen will happen under the Shadow flag.

“We’ve been working on it for two years,” says Hudson of The Wrong People Have Money, five-actor comedy by McColm, whose writing credits include assorted movies of the week and episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The timely fantasia on brainstorming and ingenuity is “such a great satire, very funny, very sharp.” Hudson describes the premise: “a professor teaches a class about striving for the impossible, and gets a lot of publicity (for the speculative assignment) ‘what if you took Greenland and moved it south, to the middle of the Atlantic?’.” Is this completely loony? Is this the great business opportunity we’ve all been waiting for? Feasibility studies ensue.

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Hudson’s cast includes Linda Grass and Elena Porter, with Steven Greenfield and Andrea House taking on a variety of roles. One of House’s characters has “a very funny anti-Canada rant,” says Hudson. And plays the professor. 

The Wrong People Have Money, which remains part of the current season, bumps the 2020-2021 season opener to occupy the October slot. And Bloomsday, the much-produced “missed love story” (as Hudson puts it) by the American playwright Stephen Dietz, has been re-scheduled to Shadow’s 30th anniversary season in January 2022.

2020-2021 season image, Shadow Theatre. Photo supplied.

The upcoming season, reduced from four to three productions, opens in January 2021 with The Mountaintop (Jan. 20 to Feb. 2). The 2009 play by the young American writer Katori Hall — launched originally in a London fringe theatre before its 2011 Broadway incarnation starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett — is spun from a turning point moment in American history. It’s 1968 in a cheap Memphis motel room, the night before the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King. 

The infrastructure of The Mountaintop, named for one of King’s most celebrated speeches, “is King’s interaction with a mysterious housekeeper,” says Hudson. “It’s about the nature of legacy and what we accomplish in our lives.”

Hudson is considering bringing in “the beautiful Rosebud Theatre production” of last fall, directed by artistic director Morris Ertman and starring Ray Strachan and Patricia Cerra.

The season includes two premieres by star Edmonton playwrights. Fresh Hell by Conni Massing (March 10 to 28) is, thinks Hudson, “a huge departure” for a playwright best known for her wry, off-centre comedies and romances.

“She’s never written anything like it,” he says says of a play that’s an trio of imagined encounters between two formidable women: the American writer/ poet/ activist/ critic Dorothy Parker and Joan of Arc. “In one of her suicide attempts, Dorothy Parker conjures Joan,” says Hudson. And themes that come up between them includes “sacrifice, legacy, being a woman in a male-dominated world….”

Hudson has assembled an all-female team for Fresh Hell. Tracy Carroll’s production stars Kate Newby as Parker and Paula Humby as Joan. “It’s a fascinating journey to be on with Conni, as she exercises different muscles as a writer,” he says. 

The season finale is a new play by Darrin Hagen, the presiding muse of Guys in Disguise and the author of such plays as The Empress and the Prime Minister, Tornado Magnet, Buddy, With Bells On. As Hudson describes, 10 Funerals (April 28 to May 16, 2021) follows the same couple as they age together through 30 years: in each scene they’re returning from a funeral. Four actors play the couple, younger and older. “There’s so much heart and warmth in Darrin’s writing. But it’s funny as can be!”   

“We’ve lost two shows this season,” says Hudson. “And there’s a real (financial) hit to that. But we have a great board and we’re a pretty stable, well-managed company…. We’re plunging more and more into new work. It’s a real focus and passion of mine.” 

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