Mary's Wedding links love, war and learning
The Canadian Jewish News, April 21, 2011 by Heather Solomon
Alison Busner is about to prove what Persephone Productions is all about, and Gabrielle Soskin is pointing the way. Soskin is directing Busner in the challenge of her young life, a two-hander where the 21-year-old actor never leaves the stage.
Busner must also perform the whole thing barefoot, wearing a long nightgown. Not only are there 90 minutes of text to memorize in the play Mary's Wedding, but the West Island native must deliver it all in a British accent.
"I graduated last spring from Dawson College's professional theatre program, and I'd studied dialects there. One doesn't learn it perfectly. so I'm very lucky to have Gabrielle,' says Busner.
Soskin arrived here from England in 1970, a graduate of the Old Vic Theatre School. For 27 years she taught in the professional theatre program of John Abbott College before leaving it to establish Persephone Productions 11 years ago in a successful effort to give young theatre graduates professional experience. With Persephone, they seed their talents before taking on the greater world of hard-knocks stage. And their products are top-notch, as exemplified by this independent company's past productions such as Kindertransport, subUrbia and Cherrydocs.
Mary's Wedding, by award-winning Alberta playwright Stephen Massicotte, is a condemnation of war seen through the filter of young love. On at the intimate Jean Valcourt Studio theatre of the Conservatoire de musique et d'arts dramatique, 4750 Henri-Julien street, the play runs from April 27 to May 7. The story follows a 17-year-old British girl, newly arrived to the prairie colonies, who falls for Charlie, a local farm boy. She introduces him to polite tea parties and he initiates her to the freedom of horseback riding, but their idyll ends when he enlists in the cavalry and is swallowed up overseas in the horror of the World War I trenches.
The play takes place three years after the fact, and in a time-folding dream sequence, Mary conjures all the memories of her young love, even those seen through the ink of his letters home describing his shock at modern warfare, in which machine guns have relaced the exploits he had envisioned. Busner not only plays Mary but also the sergeant of her beloved, both of whom offer her comfort in the face of destruction. The story is deeply touching and a wonderful exercise of the audience's imagination as it leaps through Mary's sometimes surreal dream.
Busner says she is currently learning to "paint with my voice." Playing Charlie is Persephone alumnus Dustin Ruck.
"Dustin has worked for Persephone several times before, and I've watched him develop," says Soskin. "While Persephone is about giving chances to newcomers, I felt with a two-hander, it would be a good balance to have someone I know very well and who is now more experienced, with somebody who has just graduated. Is there chemistry? There jolly well better be!"
Lorne Reienstein, who learned his craft at Concordia University, is designing the lighting, which takes the audience in the blink of an eye from a prairie thunderstorm to a battlefield in France. Set designer Ariel Loraine has similar challenges, as does the sound designer Gordon Allen.
Busner knew she wanted to act from the age of 12 and took lessons through the years at the Montreal School of Performing Arts. Now that she's embarking on what she hopes will be her long-term career, she is happy to have her parents' support.
"My dad obviously wanted me to become a lawyer. I'm the youngest of five children and he's not enjoying the struggle of me being in the theatre, but he comes to all my shows and cheers me on."
Following Mary's Wedding, Busner portrays Cinderella's eldest stepsister on Coracole Productions' children's play The Slipper and the Rose, followed by a character in a woman's meditation process in the Off-Fringe show Buddha and the Rock Star.
"I'll stay in Montreal as long as I have enough work," she says. Next season, Persephone will produce an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel Far from the Madding Crowd, as well as a Shakespeare play. Busner has already been invited to audition.