SURREY — Early this decade, Nicola Cavendish took a three-year break from acting to care for her elderly father at his home in the Okanagan, with the help of two siblings.
By the fall of 2014, she was back on the boards in the Canadian debut of “4000 Miles,” which played Vancouver’s Stanley theatre and earned Cavendish a Jessie Award nomination for lead actress.
Upon reflection, the comedy-drama, about a 91-year-old New York woman who reluctantly welcomes her grandson into her life, served as a timely vehicle for the veteran performer, whose dad died the following July, 2015.
“Caring for my father gave me such extraordinary insight into how incredibly vulnerable old age is for most people,” Cavendish told the Now. “And here I am playing an elderly woman in a play and she, too, is a character who has managed to live independently, by herself, in her own apartment, into her 90s. I have great respect for this character and also for this young woman (Amy Herzog) who wrote the play about her own grandmother. She’s writing what she knows and I’m acting what I know.”
“4000 Miles” is back on stage, with the same cast, this time as an Arts Club on Tour production that stops at Surrey Arts Centre from Feb. 17 to 27.
Cavendish plays Vera, a crusty, card-carrying communist who one night gets a knock on the door from Leo (Nathan Barrett), her 21-year-old grandson, who has just cycled across the country and needs a place to stay. They become unlikely roommates, and so unfolds “an uplifting story about growing up and growing old.”
Cavendish tells the story of how Barrett prepared for his role as an avid bike rider, prior to the play’s 2014 production at the Stanley.
“He actually cycled from New York to New Orleans – isn’t that a trip?” Cavendish marveled. “He did it for the experience, and he’s that kind of actor who wants to put that kind of research in for himself. He cycles everywhere around here, and has for years. It’s wild. He’s a wild young man who plays trumpet and takes his trumpet wherever he goes, and he plays with jazz bands, all that. He’s a wild firecracker, that man.”
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Cavendish, 63, thrills in working with a cast of young, 20-something actors – including Barrett, Ella Simon (as Leo’s girlfriend) and Agnes Tong (his adopted sister) – but laments the 14 months between stagings of the play.
“We’re having to relearn lines from that long ago,” she said with a laugh. “It’s horrible, not easy at all. I took a month alone (with the script), and learning by rote is horrible, because when you’re in a rehearsal hall you’re learning by movement, picking up a prop and associating that with a line, but here it’s a compact re-rehearsal period.… We’ve been at it two or three days now.”
The play is directed by Roy Surette, who also worked with Cavendish on “Shirley Valentine,” a show that “made” her in Vancouver in the late-1980s. A few years earlier, the Arts Club gave Cavendish her first break as a playwright by staging “It’s Snowing on Saltspring,” which became a holiday hit.
“It’s an old-fashioned take on Christmas, and I was thinking the other day that I’d love to be in it again. But I was 26 or 28 when I was in it last time, and now I’m 63,” she added with a laugh, “so maybe I shouldn’t be thinking like a kid anymore.”
For tickets to “4000 Miles” at Surrey Arts Centre, call 604-501-5566 or visit Tickets.surrey.ca.