Alice Munro Stories Belfry Theatre April 18-May 14 2017. A review.

Alice Munro Stories Belfry Theatre April 18-May 14 2017. A review.

Literature is literature. Theatre is theatre.  When the Belfry decided to adopt the innovative format pioneered by San Francisco’s Word for Word Theatre in tackling Alice Munro’s typically dense narrative-driven stories, there was excitement and questions. What would this form look like? Many a fine literary work has been adapted for the stage—one need look no further than Michael Shamata’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol—how would a literal reading translate?

Director Anita Rochon sets Differently (written in 1990) in a modern, sleek and luxurious hospital room (designer Peter Hartwell). Clean lines dominate. Clever use of colour (which changes dramatically with the splendid lighting effects (Alan Brodie) adds depth and perspective.  A low hub bub—machines beeping, loudspeaker announcements, controlled conversations—simmers constantly below the surface (sound design Antoine Bédard).  A woman (Caroline Gilllis) sits semi-reclined in the bed, her husband (Gerry Mackay) beside her, offering solace and uncomfortable endearments. At a loss, he prowls the room, flipping through magazines before settling on a book of stories, Munro’s Friend of My Youth; his wife selects Differently and he begins to read.

Gerry Mackay and Caroline Gillis. Photo: David Cooper

Clearly over his head with the convoluted relationships revealed in the first few paragraphs, he grabs rolling stools, equipment and other accoutrements to stand in for the characters.  Work calls, he must go. His wife picks up the book to resume reading. Slowly the room fills with medical personnel who begin to take on the various roles—the narrator Georgia (Jenny Wasko-Paterson), Raymond, Miles (Michael Scholar Jr), Maya (Arggy Jenati). The central drama of the story unfolds, mediated not only through the routine of a hospital day—the comings and goings, procedures and prodding—but also through Munro’s technique, as an older narrator remembers herself as a young unfaithful wife.  The audience is thus several times removed from the emotional heart—Georgia in a uniform retelling the story of Georgia as clerk in a book store and Georgia falling wildly, passionately and unheedingly in love with Miles.  Treachery, abandon and infidelity—between spouses and between friends—figure prominently. Yet, throughout, there is a clinical detachment—is it because of the environment, or is it due to the very tone of Munro’s writing?  From the distance of time, as life ebbs, and indeed, as the narrator asks, what would one do differently?

Caroline Gillis, Arggy Jenati, Michael Scholar Jr., Jenny Wasko-Paterson. Photo: David Cooper

The writing demands close attention, keeping the audience involved and vigilant for small details that reveal great emotional truths; Rochon has been very careful to tease out Munro’s particular brand of insightful humour that revels in proclivities and rigid social norms.  Differently is in part set in Victoria; people will have fun remembering life as it used to be, when only a finite number of restaurants comprised the local food scene, and people flocked to Lovers’ Lane on Dallas Road.

Save the Reaper (from For the Love of a Good Woman 1998) begins in the heart of action, with a grandmother, Eve (Caroline Gillis) and her young grandchildren Philip (Michael Scholar Jr.) and Daisy (Arggy Jenati) on the hunt for “aliens” in cars as they meander the countryside in their vehicle (an amazing rolling contraption the actors manipulate with their feet).  Desperate to reconnect with her daughter Sophie (Jenati) who she hasn’t seen in five years, Eve has rented a house close to Lake Huron, a spot she visited yearly as a young child, and invited her family to come.  The atmosphere is tense, the relationships uneasy. When Sophie announces a sudden end to the trip, and the return of her husband Ian (Scholar) who she must fetch from the airport, Eve leaps at the chance to spend time alone with Philip and Daisy.

Bumping down country roads, all could be bucolic bliss as Eve reminisces on road trips of her youth, and visits to ferret out oddities. However, the sense of Canadian Gothic hovers on the edges—lighting is bleak, sound jangling, the sense of movement produced by actual rolling fields of wheat and barley strangely disconcerting.  Unease creeps into the text.  As the roads become more and more remote, a truck turns into a lane, and Eve, unwittingly follows—reminded by the gatepost of a strange illustrated wall she saw as a child.

Jenny Wasko-Paterson , Caroline Gillis, Michael Scholar Jr., Arggy Jenati, and Gerry Mackay . Photo:David Cooper

Thrust into deep danger, she struggles to extricate herself from a situation that could turn on a dime.  Brutish men sit huddled in an oppressive room. Here the power of Munro’s words and the theatricality of the performance collide to create deep foreboding and a sense of impending doom. Miraculously, the mood shifts, Eve is free to go. Relief floods the audience as breath is released—too soon, it avers, as one of the denizens leaps into her car and demands a ride. The suspense is palpable, rendered all the more so by the inevitable realization and recollection of past collective narrow escapes and near misses.

Arggy Jenati, Caroline Gillis, Jenny Wasko-Paterson, Michael Scholar Jr. and Gerry Mackay. Photo: David Cooper

Gillis is splendid as the carefree, naïve and, at-times stupid, grandmother. Once again the ensemble plays multiple characters; Mackay glowers and grunts with cruel menace as the truck driver; Wasko-Paterson excels as the clumsy, alcohol-addled young woman looking to escape the den of iniquity; Scholar conveys child-like wise innocence as Philip; Jenati is cool and self-possessed as Sophie.

Home to the cottage, household routines bring a return to normalcy—while underneath lurks the secret grandmother and grandchildren will carry, for life.

Alice Munro Stories represents a bold gamble. As with any new form, repeated exposure will lead to familiarity.  For this first foray which displays, as one has come to expect from the Belfry, extremely high-level production values, audiences must be prepared to abandon previous notions of what constitutes theatre, in order to fully enter into the experience.

Alice Munro Stories directed by Anita Rochon
Belfry Theatre
April 18-May 14, 2017

Tickets: from $20 to $53 (plus GST). Available at 250-385-6815 or online at Prices are subject to change. (See below for more ticket information)


Caroline Gillis
Arggy Jenati
Gerry Mackay
Michael Scholar Jr.
Jenny Wasko-Paterson

Designer Peter Hartwell
Lighting Design Alan Brodie
Sound Designer Antoine Bédard
Stage Manager Jennifer Swan
Assistant Stage Manager Emily Mewett
Voice Coach Adrienne Smook

Performance Schedule (April 18 – May 14, 2017)
Tuesdays – Thursdays at 7:30 pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm
Wednesday Matinees at 1 pm (April 26, May 3 & 10)
Saturday Matinees at 4 pm
Sunday Matinees at 2 pm

Rush Tickets
For our weekday evening performances we offer a limited number of last minute rush tickets at a discount. Rush tickets are:
> available at the Box Office 30 minutes before each evening performance (Tuesday to Friday),
> in person only,
> subject to availability, and
> 40% off our regular Zone 2 (Yellow Section) and Zone 3 (Red Section) ticket prices.

Ticket Discounts
High School Students – 50%
University / College / Post Secondary Students – 25%
Seniors – 10%
Members of the Military – 25%
Groups (10 or more) – 10%

Events during Alice Munro Stories:

Facilitated discussions – audience member to audience member – will follow every evening Mainstage performance of Alice Munro Stories (except Opening Night and Talkback Thursday). These are a great opportunity to share your thoughts and hear how fellow patrons reacted to the show.

Thursday, April 27

Meet the actors post-performance when they return to the stage to answer questions and provide insight into the play.

Monday, April 24 at 7:30 pm

Librarians go head-to-head as they race against the clock to speed review their favourite books in these fun and competitive events, co-presented with the Greater Victoria Public Library.

Sunday, May 7 at 2 pm

For our patrons with low or no vision, we’ll offer a VocalEye performance during Alice Munro Stories. Trained Audio Describers provide descriptions of the visual elements of the show, allowing people with low vision to enjoy the theatrical experience without missing any of the details.

Disclaimer:  I received complimentary tickets to attend Alice Munro Stories.


About @lacouvee

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  1. Alice Munro Stories was a huge disappointment. Actors stumbling over the text – one referred to one character when she meant another. Conversations overheard in the ladies room at the break indicated confusion and when we returned to our seats at least a third of our row had voted with their feet and gone home. This season (and the last) has been lacklustre for me………my favourite production was the one put on by the Belfry 101 students. I am a huge supporter of theatre in all of its forms but I would rather be entertained than challenged with something that needs more work – a lot more work.

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