Burns Wharf Theatre Players pick ‘Baker’s Wife’

The Knox United Church sancutary before the renovation process took place. Sunday church services have been moved to the adjecent church hall.

Manitowaning troupe tranforms Knox United Church

MANITOWANING—‘The Baker’s Wife’ is on its way to the Burns Wharf Theatre Players and it promises to take the audience to a quaint French town for a fresh play that is the group’s first-ever licensed production.

“I really fell in love with the storyline. It’s a bit of a touching story of forgiveness and redemption. I really love the music—it’s similar to Gilbert and Sullivan in the style of the sound, but not as operatic,” said stage director Patrick Therrien.

Previous Burns Wharf productions have been copyright-free works such as the oeuvre of British playwriting duo Gilbert and Sullivan. This is the first time the group has licensed the rights to produce a play, offering them the chance to put on a more modern production—in fact, the first play of theirs that is set in the 20th century.

“It takes place in a small village, there’s a great chorus, the staging and the costuming is quite simple; it felt like a real good progression,” said Mr. Therrien.

‘The Baker’s Wife’ is set in a village in 1935 France that had recently suffered the loss of its baker, much to the dismay of the pastry- and bread-loving townsfolk.

To the rescue comes a new baker, but he comes with a socially-questionable (for 1935, at least) catch—his wife is much younger than he.

Tension emerges between the couple that ultimately leads to major rifts. The townsfolk then rally in support of the baker and his wife in the hopes of bringing back their beloved boulangerie and its baguettes, breads and buns.

“We’re not just doing the big grand gestures, there’s a bit more acting involved and very, very quick interaction between the actors,” said Mr. Therrien.

“This is a feel-good play. It’s a comedy and there’s a sense of redemption,” he said. “It’s a fun production. There’s some really neat characters, real neat developments of emotions and stuff like that.”

The Knox United Church sanctuary is being renovated to hold the Burns Wharf Players summer production and other cultural activities.

Peter Baumgarten, who plays the baker, said that despite the comedic nature of the production, the audience can expect a good variety of moods.

“There are also some serious moments in it and tear-jerking moments. I’ll be disappointed during parts of the production if there aren’t some people with tears in their eyes,” said Mr. Baumgarten.

The play will be showcased in a new location this year. The players have not been able to perform in the waterfront Burns Wharf Theatre for five years due to concerns about the theatre’s accessibility and fire safety. Last year’s production was cancelled altogether because the troupe couldn’t find the space they needed at Debajehmujig Creation Centre, an organization with whom they’ve partnered in the past, but was becoming increasingly busy with its own activities.

That’s when Rev. Martin Garniss of Manitowaning’s Knox United Church stepped in with a much-needed offer.

“They weren’t able to use their theatre last year and it was too bad for the community,” said Rev. Garniss. “We contacted them to see if they’d like to use our building and so they thought about it, we had a couple of meetings, and figured it could be done.”

The church looks vastly different than it has previously. The front platform has been expanded and reinforced to carry the weight and space requirements of the production. Not a single pew remains in place, with seating brought in to accommodate 80 people in the same space. This is part of the church’s interest in becoming more of a community space.

“Martin and others want to see the church used for a myriad of things; they’ve already talked about having other concerts in there all year long and some smaller performances,” said Mr. Baumgarten.

For the time being, church services are being held in the hall adjacent to the sanctuary until the renovations are completed. Rev. Garniss said the church services would resume in the sanctuary within the next couple of weeks.

There are members of the church who are actively involved with the Burns Wharf Theatre Players, including the church’s organist Marilyn Wohlberg who is a music director in the production, so the partnership may seem to be a natural fit.

“We are thrilled to be able to perform at Knox United this year. They have been overwhelmingly generous and accommodating,” said Burns Wharf Players music director Ray Scott.

There has been good news in recent months for the Burns Wharf group—the newly-elected Assiginack council has pledged their support to get the group’s theatre space back in action. Although the council has yet to commit to any timeline, their enthusiasm has begun to excite Mr. Therrien.

“They’re very much for rebuilding the nice Burns Wharf Theatre, which would be amazing. It’d be so much fun to go back home,” he said.

This is also the first time the players will be using a two-storey set—one of the buildings has an open second level that hosts some of the action.

“We’re hoping for a ‘wow’ when they walk into that door on opening night,” said Mr. Baumgarten.