A jam-packed audience at Gananoque's Firehall Theatre received a special treat on Dec. 4 as they were entertained by the hilariously funny Siberian Summer written by local playwright Paul Van Dyck.
The uproarious comedy follows the journey of a young man, his mother and her two best friends as they vacation on the Trans-Siberian Railway.
"This whimsical comedy examines the often humorous and sometimes poignant cultural differences between nationalities and generations," reads the Thousand Islands Playhouse program.
The play is based on a trip, enjoyed by the playwright himself, his mother and her two best friends back in 2007. It follows their travels, sharing the hilarity that is inevitable when you put two generations together with best friends, an unfamiliar country, personality quirks and cultural differences.
"It was wonderful," commented one audience member when the reading concluded. "I really loved the way it captured the relationship between the women. The way you captured the relationship was dead on."
The part of the mother, Pam was read by Anne Hardcastle. Both the camaraderie and cynicism that is often shared between mother and son made it near impossible to believe that she and Peter, played by Brett Christopher were not in actuality related. Their adaptation to the roles made audience members believe they really were in fact listening to mother and son be it bickering or bonding.
Christopher also molded well with Alexandra Montagnese, who played a couple of different roles. In act 1, she briefly played the role of a discontented girlfriend, one from whom Christopher's character seemed less than upset about moving along. When she transitions into her more prominent role as the group's Russian tour guide, her outstanding ability to capture the Russian accent amazes everyone. Audience members took a second take when she opened her mouth to be sure it was indeed the same young woman.
The relationship between Hardcastle and her two best friends, Louise, played by Diane Stapley and Beatrice, played by Carolyn Hethrington left a clear picture of nothing less than a Golden Girls experience that had everyone in stitches on multiple occasions. All three women blended magnificently making them a perfect fit for the parts.
Following the reading, playwright Van Dyck sat before his audience with Thousand Islands Playhouse Artistic Director Ashlie Corcoran, for a brief question-and-answer period.
Van Dyck admitted that his family, including his mother and her companions had never seen/heard the play before and chuckled as he said "I'm going to tell them it's not really about them but instead it's the Golden Girls on a train," he was sure they would tell him what they thought of it that evening.
The play includes an array of facts that one would expect to hear from their tour guide whilst taking such a trip. A few of those, Van Dyck said, he does remember from the actual trip, but admits that more than a few came after the fact while doing research. "Like the speech from the woman at the Great Wall," he laughed, "I didn't learn that while I was there. I actually learned that at 4 a.m. on Friday morning when I had to deliver the final draft and needed a button for that scene!"
Van Dyck only began writing the script in February of this year. Audiences have just heard draft 6.5, he jokes "I'm not sure what the .5 means. It's had a few changes, but I think it had a pretty clear structure right from the get go."
"There are a lot of changes in this last draft," pointed out Corcoran. She reiterated the one scene and explained to the audience some differences from when it was previously written, adding "I've read the play lots and reading the latest added piece made me laugh out loud."
"All that came about working in the unit with all these other playwrights, reading it and saying 'you should push it in this direction, and you should do this or that and see what happens if you do that'. It was great to have all these really great writers and Ashlie to continually kind of spurring me on to not settle on anything and I will continue to do that, even though the unit is wrapped up for me."
"These trips are wonderful ways of getting to know each other, getting to hate each other, and then getting to love each other." Van Dyck said of his adventure. "They have certainly a dramatic art that I thought could play out on stage. I don't know how you transform into each setting, but I'll worry about that later. There are definitely stories to be told."
The Playwrights' Unit is now going strong in its third year. The program, designed to nurture promising playwrights is clearly on the right track. "I also try to hire as many local actors as possible," added Corcoran.
"This year in August and September, each play had a four-hour workshop with actors who were already working at the playhouse and I think that is something that we will continue."
For more information on the unit and how to be considered for such, send a cover letter introducing yourself, your specific theatrical interests, and an idea that you would like to explore in the unit (onepage maximum), a rÃ©sumÃ© (two-page maximum) and a writing selection from a past play (10-page maximum) to Corcoran at ashlie@1000 islandsplayhouse.com before Wednesday, Jan. 7.