By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Seasons announced and un-announced and re-announced (with modifications); shows scheduled and delayed, cancelled and pivoted…. The story of Edmonton theatres for the last 14 months is a narrative of optimism up against caution.
As the Shadow knows. As announced this week by artistic director John Hudson, Shadow will be back in the light, so to speak, next January, onstage at the Varscona Theatre with a season of three plays, two of them originally announced for 2020-2021. “It’s an important time to be focussing on diversity,” says Hudson.
The Mountaintop, a 2009 play by the young American playwright Katori Hall (who won the Pulitzer Prize this year for The Hot Wing King), opens the Shadow series Jan. 20, 2022. The two-hander, named for one of Martin Luther King’s most celebrated speeches, had humble origins (in a London fringe theatre). Its Broadway premiere (starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett) brought it to prominence. It’s set at a seminal moment in American civil rights history: 1968 in a cheap Memphis motel room the night before King’s assassination, an encounter between the great man and a mysterious housekeeper.
The Shadow production, to be directed by Patricia Darbasie, stars Ray Strachan and Patricia Cerra.
In March 2022, Shadow will produce Cottagers and Indians, a recent play by the all-star Ojibway playwright/ storyteller/ humourist/ journalist Drew Hayden Taylor. It’s inspired by a real-life dispute about water between Ontario cottagers and Indigenous locals trying to revive old traditions by planting wild rice on a lakeshore.
Taylor’s gusty sense of humour, sharp satirical gifts, and sense of the absurd are brought to bear on insights into “the colonial nature of our relationships with Indigenous people,” as Hudson puts it. The Shadow production, which runs March 9 to 27, 2022, will star Trevor Duplessis and Davina Stewart.
The last of the 30th season trio is Bloomsday, a love story of missed chances by the much-produced American playwright Steven Dietz, in which an older couple retraces their steps to rediscover their younger selves. “It hits me in a personal way,” says Hudson. “It’s all about life choices.” The production, which runs April 27 to May 15, 2022, reunites Shadow favourites John Sproule and Coralie Cairns (who doubles as Shadow’s general manager). The younger versions of the leading couple are played by Alexandra Dawkins and Chris Pereira.
The delay in opening live beyond fall, says Hudson, “is just to make sure.” He’s referring to the acceleration of vaccinations and return of audience confidence in live gatherings. “Our subscribers (who now number about 640), are cautious; they’ve told us (in surveys) that they won’t be back till more people have been vaccinated.”
“It’s been such a complicated dance, for all the performing arts,” he says. “We’ve paid out $40,000 to artists for cancelled shows.”
Shadow was two shows into its four-show 2020-2021 lineup when the shutdown happened last March. Eventually the company cancelled all its planned live performances for 2021. Audiences had seen the premiere of Happy Birthday Baby J, and Heisenberg was but three performances into its run.
Meanwhile, Heisenberg is available free at Broadway On Demand, June 18 to 20. Shadow still plans, at some future date, to produce three new plays by Edmonton writers in which the theatre has shared development: Conni Massing’s Fresh Hell, Darrin Hagen’s 10 Funerals, and Reed McColm’s The Wrong People Have Money.