Manitoulin Island featured on Broadway

The full cast of ‘Where You Are’ at Theatre Orangeville is, from left, Melanie Janzen as Glenda, Debra Hale as Suzanne, Kristen Da Silva as Beth and Jeff Hanson as Patrick. They will be performing this production in Orangeville until May 19. photo by Sharyn Ayliffe Creative

ORANGEVILLE – “When you love someone, you want them where you are.”

That was among the more direct lines that encapsulated the theme behind playwright Kristen Da Silva’s new production set on Manitoulin Island, ‘Where You Are.’ It celebrated its world premiere this past Friday, May 3 at Theatre Orangeville, located on Orangeville’s very own Broadway.

“The audience was really great tonight. They were along for the ride with us and gave a great response to the jokes,” said Ms. Da Silva following the world premiere performance. “You could tell they were invested in the characters, especially in the emotional parts.”

Ms. Da Silva was in attendance at opening night not just as the playwright but also as one of the four actors on stage for the production, in the role of Beth. Her co-stars were Debra Hale in the role of Suzanne, Beth’s mother; Jeff Hanson playing the kind-hearted and charming next-door neighbour, Patrick; and Melanie Janzen as Glenda, Suzanne’s sister and housemate.

Glenda and Suzanne are retirees living in Little Current who spend their days looking after their backyard chickens and admiring the figure of their younger neighbour Patrick, who often stops by to drop off copies of The Manitoulin Expositor and enjoy some of the treats that the ladies provide.

Beth announces that she is making a trip home, a visit that is causing considerable stress on Suzanne because of their strained relationship. Both Suzanne and Glenda as well as Beth have secrets that they have not been sharing with each other, including a major secret that underpins much of the motivation behind the sisters’ lives—spoiler alert!—Glenda has cancer.

“It’s a story that came from my personal life. I lost an aunt to pancreatic cancer (three) Decembers ago,” Ms. Da Silva told The Expositor last November. “It came from watching my mom go through losing her sister and knowing she was going to die. They’ve been very close ever since my aunt was born.”

The play’s cast celebrates opening night with Theatre Orangeville artistic director David Nairn, centre, holding some of the jam that makes an appearance in the play.

Ms. Da Silva visited Manitoulin Island last summer for the first time and realized that it would make the perfect setting for some of the themes in the play. Island residents will recognize a long list of references to landmarks and calling cards that Manitoulin is famous for. These included hawberry jelly, Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Little Current, this newspaper, Boozeneck Road, ‘Haweaters,’ McLean’s Mountain Lookout, Gordon’s Park and the swing bridge.

Although the play was billed as a comedy and contained no shortage of expertly-timed jokes, it has its share of serious moments that sliced straight through the comedic air and tugged at the heartstrings of the audience. There were moments of shattering silence whenever the actors delivered a particularly emotional line.

Theatre Orangeville’s casting choices for the production all proved to be successful as the actors slipped into their roles in a seamless fashion that swept the audience deeply into the story. Their execution was only made better by the show’s writing—even the ushers who would have undoubtedly heard and seen all the lines before were in stitches in the corners of the room at parts of the play.

“I hope people on Manitoulin Island feel how much we’ve come to love the place,” said Ms. Da Silva. “I’ve really gotten to understand how much their home means to them. It’s a special place.”

Theatre Orangeville’s artistic director David Nairn said he felt the world premiere went spectacularly well and that he was happy with how the audience responded to the production.

“To do a world premiere of a new play, in many ways, that production will define the future of the show,” he said.

Although the play takes place on Manitoulin Island, the core messages can transcend time and place, Mr. Nairn said. He also served as director for the play.

“It makes my job so much easier when you get the casting right,” he said. “This is such a beautiful story and it’s so honestly told.”

Mr. Nairn, who has connections to the North Shore and Greater Sudbury areas, said he felt the play honours Manitoulin and the spirit of those who live there. He added that a scene involving doughnuts had to be reworked for this production.

“Whenever you mention Tim Hortons on stage, it always gets a laugh. But there are no Tim Hortons on Manitoulin! Instead of using a Tim Hortons box we created one that riffs on the Loco Beanz logo,” said Mr. Nairn.

He described a subscriber who has been attending Theatre Orangeville productions for 25 years and is also battling cancer, who described ‘Where You Are’ as the best show they had ever done.

“He said that every word was honest and true and everything he felt in his own journey. He said it embodied everything he hoped his last days would be filled with. That’s the power of theatre,” said Mr. Nairn.

‘Where You Are’ is a one-set play, but its place on the front steps of Glenda and Suzanne’s house was conducive to all the actions taking place within the story. Production manager and set designer Beckie Morris was able to pay close attention to the minute details and ensure everything was in its right place, including a garden arbour carved with the initials of Glenda and her late husband Mark. 

Lighting designer Wendy Lundgren also ensured that realistic colours shone through for the outdoor scene, including some subtle shadows of the sunlight streaming through leafy trees. Dan Palmieri served as sound designer and assistant technical director, Wendi Speck was the costume designer and Jory McLean took up the role of stage manager. Grace Batten was apprentice stage manager, Lisa Lahue was technical director and Taylor Woermann was the opera house technician.

‘Where You Are’ is on stage at Theatre Orangeville until May 19. Ms. Da Silva said her play will then head on to further engagements with different companies in Orillia, Brampton and even Prince Edward Island. Her next production, ‘Hurry Hard,’ will premiere at Port Dover’s Lighthouse Festival in July, located at the southerly tip of Highway 6.