Let the journeying begin: Northern Light Theatre announces a new season

Kristin Johnston in Enough, Northern Light Theatre. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

The journey. After two years of our collective fretfulness — isolation, scrambling on the ground, pivoting on one foot, running on the spot as the world crumbles — theatre’s favourite metaphor gathers new dimensions.

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Journeys, and travelling, get unusual graphic treatment in Northern Light Theatre’s upcoming 47th season of three productions, announced Monday. And along with the trio of plays — two British and one American, all three by playwrights pretty much unknown here — the company has a new general manager to introduce, Bridget Norris-Jones.

Speaking as we are of journeys, Norris-Jones moved this year from Toronto and arrives at NLT with a history that includes both performance (as actor, dancer, and musician) and management credits at such companies as Nightwood Theatre and the SummerWorks festival.

There is journeying at the centre of all three shows in the 2022-2023 lineup, as artistic director Trevor Schmidt explains. The season opener Squeamish, by New York-based playwright Aaron Marks who specializes in the tricky art of “horror for the stage,” as Schmidt puts it, is “a thriller for one person.… Dark and disturbing, and it gets darker and darker.” 

Davina Stewart in Squeamish, Northern Light Theatre. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography

In this third of Marks’ trio of “mono-tragedies,” a “grotesque tale of phobia and compulsion” as billed, we meet a therapist (Davina Stewart) in her late ‘50s, who leaves New York for south Texas and the funeral of her nephew, who’s died suddenly. A mental disorder clearly runs in the family, and while she’s there, uh-oh, she goes off her medication. 

Schmidt, whose own one-person thriller We Had A Girl Before You ran at Northern Light in 2020, directs the production, which occupies the spooky season time slot Oct. 20 to Nov. 5. Davina Stewart stars as the shrink with her own shrink. 

There are two flight attendants, long-time friends, in Enough by Scottish playwright Stef Smith, which premiered at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh in 2019. Thirty thousand feet above the ground, their professional lives seem organized, well managed. On the ground below them, though, they have a sense that things are falling apart.  

“Both have a sense of dread,” says Schmidt of the existential angst that fuels the play. They feel the ground shudder; they sense apocalyptic change in the air. “They’re overwhelmed by the news, by climate change.… They’re envious of each other’s lives, the one single in a relationship with a (possibly abusive) man and the other married with children.” 

Schmidt was attracted by the formal intricacies of the play, which unspools “in both the first and third person.” As he describes, “they narrate each other’s stories,” and there’s a weave of “choral work, monologues, dramatized scenes” as Enough explores the relationship between the women and the nuances of female friendship. There are only two actors, “but it’s a big show,” he says. “Lots of light, sound, movement (created by Good Women Dance’s Ainsley Hillyard). It’s gonna be very full.” 

“There’s one play every season that really challenges, frightens me.” And Enough is that one, says Schmidt. His Canadian premiere production (Jan. 19 to Feb 5, 2023) stars Kristin Johnston and Linda Grass.

Dayna Lea Hoffman in A Hundred Words For Snow, Northern Light Theatre. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography

The season finale A Hundred Words For Snow is one of the trio of solo plays in Heretic Voices, the volume of published monologues that Schmidt mined for Annie Fox’s Woman Caught Unaware. Schmidt directed the latter at last summer’s Fringe, and his production (starring Davina Stewart) has recently run at Victoria’s UNO Festival, with upcoming dates at the Vancouver Fringe. 

Tatty Hennessey’s A Hundred Words For Snow is the story of a teenage girl who undertakes an expedition to the North Pole with the ashes of her late father, who’d always wanted to go to the Arctic. “It’s about grief, loss, family … a beautiful play,” says Schmidt of the 90-minute piece. His production, starring Dayna Lea Hoffman (currently to be seen at the Freewill Shakespeare Festival), runs April 20 to May 6, 2023. 

Additionally, we can catch the Northern Light Theatre production of Mickle Maher’s The Hunchback Variations, slated to run this past January and cancelled due to COVID, at the upcoming Edmonton Fringe. Davina Stewart directs; Ian Leung and Dave Clarke star as Beethoven and Quasimodo, respectively.  

All three Northern Light productions for 2022-2023 happen in the Studio Theatre at the ATB Financial Arts Barn. And subscriptions are available at northernlighttheatre.com. 

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