Screen stars take to stage in un-romantic comedy from ‘House of Cards’ EP

Screen stars take to stage in un-romantic comedy from ‘House of Cards’ EP

We at YVR Screen Scene are committed to celebrating the work of our local film and television artists, whether it’s created for the screen or in a wholly different artistic realm – which is why we’re chuffed to tell you all about Kindred Entertainment’s production of THIS, which runs April 28-May 5 at Studio 16. –Ed.

THIS sounds a lot like life: sad and funny and poignant and exhilarating. 

The 2010 play – which was written by House of Cards showrunner Melissa James Gibson – kicks off a Vancouver run this week thanks to Kindred Entertainment, the theatre company helmed by actress-producer Loretta Walsh (When Calls the Heart).

THIS is funny and it’s smart and there are pieces of humanity splattered all over the stage,” says Walsh. It’s early March, and Walsh has invited YVR Screen Scene to join the cast for a roundtable conversation at the tail-end of a Saturday afternoon rehearsal.

Walsh recounts reading THIS for the first time and being, first floored, and then spurred into action. “There is an event that occurs right at the climax of this play that when I read it, I had such an extreme reaction that I just said, ‘That’s it, I’m taking out my cheque-book and my credit card and I don’t care how much it costs because I think people need to experience that, I think they need to receive that, and so I’m in,’” she says.  

This particular production of THIS is chock-full of Vancouver screen talent; besides Walsh, there’s Ben Ratner (Ganjy), Zak Santiago (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency), Karen Holness (Cashing In), and Brad Dryborough (Battlestar Galactica). The production is directed by Bill Dow.

 Loretta Walsh and Brad Dryborough in  THIS . 

Loretta Walsh and Brad Dryborough in THIS

Billed as an “un-romantic comedy,” THIS zooms in on a group of middle-aged friends who’ve known each other since college: Jane (Walsh), a poet and recently widowed single mom who’s had a tough go of it and might be ready for more; Tom (Dryborough) and Merrill (Holness), new parents who are fraying at the seams; and Alan (Ratner), a lonely and acerbic gay man who has built a career out of his ability to remember every single thing he’s ever heard and seen (an ability he considers both a blessing and a curse).

New to the group is Jean-Pierre (Santiago), a doctor with Médecins Sans Frontière and what portrayer Santiago describes as “a nice counterpoint to react to the spiralling, beautiful chaos that’s happening in [the other characters’] lives.”

THIS is heavy. It’s hilarious. It’s a trip. In other words, it’s just like life. “We’re dealing with different things that are specific to our characters, but I think those bigger questions, those universal questions are there for everybody,” says Dryborough. “And it’s funny. There’s a lot to laugh at.”

House of Cards fans will recognize the dexterity and elegance of Gibson’s writing in THIS, says Ratner. “If you think about how sophisticated yet accessible and entertaining television has become, that will give you an idea of what to expect from this play,” says Ratner. “It’s very smart, very sophisticated, but totally accessible to all kinds of audiences because Gibson knows how to write across the board. She can write funny and she can write smart and she can write enlightening and she can write unexpected.”

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For Ratner, it was a single line in the play that compelled him to say yes to THIS. “Alan says, ‘I’m just feeling a sudden sense of urgency mixed with intense exhaustion,’ and I think that really speaks to where all these characters are at in different ways,” says Ratner. “That line really hit home for me because, when you come to a certain age, the clock is ticking. We need to make sure we get our ya-yas in before we go.”

And for these screen actors, spending time on stage in THIS is invigorating. “There’s never been a theatre production that I have done, no matter how small or large, that didn’t change me or help me to grow as an artist, sometimes in surprising ways,” muses Holness. “That I don’t get from a day on set.”

“There’s a difference from being in a movie or on television, [where] even if you have a big part and you get to spend time with people, it’s a very disjointed time,” adds Dryborough.

The joy of theatre is that every performance brings forth its own special energy, according to Santiago. “You can try to film it, you can try to record it, but it won’t be the same if you weren’t there watching those transitions with those characters, seeing that first act go to the second act go to the third act, hearing the breath of the actors and the gasp in those tragic moments and the shake in someone’s voice: all that live magic,” says Santiago.

“What we actors do won’t change much from rehearsal to the performance, but the experience can only exist that one time in that one show that one night with whoever is in those seats.” 

THIS runs April 28 to May 5 at Studio 16. Tickets and showtimes at http://www.kindredentertainment.com.

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