It may take place in Calgary in the dark days of the Second World War, but John Murrell’s Waiting For The Parade has a universality that crosses generations.
That’s the belief of Wendy Bollard, director and co-producer of 16th Avenue Productions upcoming version of the home-front comedy-drama, coming to Coast Capital Playhouse, 1532 Johnston Rd., April 28-May 7.
“Anytime you get a bunch of women together, you’re going to have a lot of laughter and some backbiting,” Bollard said. “I’m sure it was the same then as it would be now.”
But that, fortunately, applies to the characters Murrell has created for Waiting For The Parade (“five very real women,” Bollard said) and not to the actors she has cast in her directorial debut.
“I call them my dream team,” Bollard said.
“I’m so lucky. Everyone in the cast has been so supportive and spurring each other on to do better. There’s been lots of fun and lots of laughing.”
Benefiting the semi-professional production has been the casting of such professional actresses as Luvia Petersen and Ashley Siddals, who play the roles of Janet and Catherine.
“Luvia is not only a professional film and television actress, she teaches acting – when you have that level of actor, that’s the bar that’s set,” said Bollard, adding that while others in the cast may not have the same degree of theatrical or film experience, they are all rising to the challenge of making the women and their relationships real.
Much of the dramatic tension of the show is a result of the sparks that fly between Petersen’s character, bossy Red Cross volunteer Janet, and Siddals’ character, the fun-loving Catherine, Bollard noted.
“Catherine is one of those women we’d all like to be – she’s nice, easy-going, attractive and guys like her. Her husband is one of the first to sign up for military service. But with her husband away at war she has to make some choices to survive and get through. She makes choices that some people might think are wrong.”
Janet, married to a radio news-flash broadcaster, is defensive about his choice not to volunteer for military service – averring that “it’s radio that keeps this country together.”
“She overcompensates by becoming the bossiest of the bossy,” Bollard said. “Part of the play is that they all volunteer, rolling bandages, or being Red Cross hostesses and she’s completely in charge of everything and not very kind to others.”
White Rock’s Elyse Raible plays the role of Eve, a schoolteacher and the youngest of the quintet.
“She’s definitely very naive and a lot of the comedy relief comes from that,” Bollard said. “But she’s also completely, totally and utterly against the idea of war and fighting – she’s that thought in the heads of all of us that being in a war is crazy.”
Kim Arklie appears as Margaret, a woman with two grown sons – one of them off in the war.
“I call Margaret Eyeore, because she’s a bit of a downer,” said Bollard. “She’s one of those people who can see the cloud in every silver lining.”
The role of Marta, played by professional actress Becky Hachey, is one that is both touching and challenges comfortable black and white views of an us-versus-them war.
“Marta moved to Canada from Germany when she was nine,” Bollard said. “Her father is interned as an enemy alien for the duration of the war – which raises the whole questions of the wrongs and rights of internment.
“The playwright doesn’t say whether he feels it’s wrong or right. He leaves that up to you.”
Bollard said she wants the play to be an authentic tribute to a generation of women of tremendous strength, who lived in the present and carried on one day at a time without knowing how long the war would continue, or whether their loved ones would return.
There’s also a great deal of humour in the situations – such as the women’s first attempts to paint their legs to simulate unavailable silk or nylon stockings – and also the popular songs that women sang among themselves to keep their spirits up.
Judging by initial interest from people who have seen advertising for the show, or seen excerpts at Semiahmoo Arts’ Random Acts of Culture event April 10, there shouldn’t be much trouble in landing good houses for the play.
But Bollard said the most important thing of all will be the journey of bringing Murrell’s vision to the stage.
“When I decided to start this company, it was because I wanted to work with great people,” she said.
“People coming to see the show will just be icing on the cake.”