Welfarewell by St Luke’s Players, March 12-23, 2014. A review.

Welfarewell by St Lukes Players. March 12-23, 2014. A review

Quoting Shakespeare and her own on-the-spot rhymes—in iambic pentameter no less—cat-food-eating erstwhile bank robber, and former actress, Esmerelda Quipp (Jane Guy) now in her 80s, must find a way to survive.  What’s a penniless pensioner to do?  Jailed after attempting to bury her cat in the landlord’s yard, she discovers the long-forgotten pleasures of a warm bed and three square meals a day. She’s quick to befriend her fellow cell-mates—two “ladies of the night” (Val Colleen Davis and Penny Gail Straughan), an attempted murderer (Gladys Wendy London) and a serial shop-lifter (Dottie Beverly van Druten-Blais). Upon her quick release, she hatches a plan to return as soon as possible.

Guy’s Esmerelda is endearing, sharp as tacks, quick-witted and sly.  Welfarewell rests solidly on the character’s shoulders and demands that the actor move from thoughtful, at-times-biting social commentary and satire, through reams of Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, Troas and Cressida, Julius Caesar, Merchant of Venice to name only a few), to zingers and one-offs, and even low-brow comedy.  Guy accomplishes this easily while ensuring that her character does not fall into the realm of the stereotypical “little old lady”.  Her manner is imperious, yet kind.

Welfarewell St Lukes March 2014

Colleen Davis (Val), Wendy London (Gladys Symmington-Bukovitch), Jane Guy (Esmerelda Quipp), Paul Gillan (Alfred David), Gail Straughan (Penny Farthingale), Beverly van Druten-Blais (Dottie Ramsbottom), Wendy Cornock (Officer HB Hackett) Photo provided.

As jail-houses pals, Davis, Straughan, London and van Druten-Blais differentiate their characters with ease, helped by wacky costuming (Vanessa  Bloomfield) for hookers and thief, and an elegant ensemble for the unhappy and murderous wife.

The social do-gooders—police officer (HB Hackett Wendy Cornock, social worker (Jennifer Vanessa Bloomfield) and lawyer (Alfred David Paul Gillian)are just as funny in their attempts to save the ne’er do wells from themselves.

Smaller roles fall to a judge (Joy Farrell), landlord (Steve Eastman) and board member (Deb Taylor).

The cast, under director Michael King, approach the work with gusto, nuance and a clear love of the material.  Set design (Lisa Preston) is compact and makes good use of rolling elements to create the varied settings with one stand-out element being the holding cell at the jail.  Carol-Anne Moore lights the small proscenium stage effectively, and Mitch Barnes incorporates topical references in his sound design.

It’s no wonder that Cat Delaney, the playwright, won the 2009 Samuel French Canadian Playwriting Competition, or that Welfarewell has been produced across Canada and the United States.  Delaney’s website mentions a life-time writing career that spans multiple genres.

Personally, I marvel at the knowledge of Shakespeare that would allow a writer to incorporate ripostes and repartee with an insider’s familiarity while navigating the terrain from comedy to satire.  Ultimately she asks disturbing questions about society’s treatment of people at the margins. Sometimes a gentle nudge rather than a sledgehammer is what it takes to get people thinking about the situation.

Community theatre has always been part of the fabric of the arts in the Greater Victoria region with companies large (Langham Court Theatre founded in 1929) and smaller (St Luke’s Players founded in 1949 and Peninsula Players founded in 1952), yet this was my first visit to St Luke’s.  I found overlap between these three, and mention of involvement on the part of cast and crew with other community theatres on the island and much further afield.

H.E. Sherman, in his excellent essay gives compelling reasons for incorporating community theatre into our theatre-going experiences.  Welfarewell provides ample proof that community theatre can be topical, well-written, and fun.

A special shout-out to the production crew—I counted over 30 names in the program—who have dedicated countless hours to bringing Welfarewell to life.

If you’d like to get involved, there is more information in their most recent newsletter and on the website.

Welfarewell by Cat Delaney, directed by Michael King
St Luke’s Players at St Luke’s Hall, Cedar Hill X Rd at Cedar Hill Road
March 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 21, and 22 at 8 pm
Matinees: March 15, 16, 22, and 23 at 2 pm
Tickets $15/$13
at the door or in advance at the following outlets

Ivy’s Book Shop
2188 Oak Bay Avenue
(250) 598-2713
Mon-Sat 9:30-6, Sun 12-5

Petals Plus Florist
3749 Shelbourne Street
(250) 721-1992
Mon-Sat 9-5

Russell Books
734 Fort Street
(250) 361-4447
Mon-Sat 9-5:30, Sun 11-5

Dig This (Broadmead)
#480 – 777 Royal Oak Drive
(250) 727-9922
Mon-Sat 9:30-5:30, Sun 11-5

Disclaimer: I was provided with complimentary tickets to Welfarewell. As always, I retain complete editorial control over all content published on this site.

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