Constructing Marion Bridge
by Jessica Smith
Victoria has a lively theatre scene with many small, talented companies vying for venues, rehearsal space and audience attention, but relationships among the people involved are more co-operative than competitive.
One theatre company with a focus on creating a community for actors is the Workshop Actors of Victoria Ensemble (WAVE), made up of three local acting teachers: Monica Prendergast, Gina McIntosh and Kate Rubin. Their new show, Marion Bridge, is acted and directed by all three women and is showing at the Metro Studio Theatre until Jan. 14.
“There are a number of small companies in Victoria doing wonderful things, so the focus of WAVE is really on actor development,” said Prendergast.
The play “is a finished production as much as we can do for the three of us. We really are still working. We feel like there’s lots more to go,” said Prendergast. “Our productions are not intended to be full productions—we really are more focused on the process.”
The workshop quality of the play is evident in the minimal sets and lighting—technical decisions that Prendergast said are intended to highlight the actors. Prendergast believes that when full sets and lighting are added to a performance, “the acting stops” and becomes repetition.
One aspect of the acting that still feels like it’s being workshopped is the accents. The play is set in rural Nova Scotia, and the level of Maritime accent for the characters, who are sisters, is uneven.
“We didn’t want to push the East Coast accent too hard, because it’s actually very easy with the Maritime accent to slip into sounding Irish. We’re not East Coasters, and it’s a very challenging thing to nail that particular dialect,” explained Prendergast.
While three different voices for three distinct characters makes sense, and each woman has built an identity for her character, the deliveries are so different that it’s difficult believe they’re siblings.
The plot concerns the relationships between the sisters when they return to their childhood home because their mother is dying. Prendergast is playing a nun, Theresa, who lives on a farm and loves working the earth but is having a crisis of faith. One of the most powerful moments in the play is a breakdown she has in front of her sister Agnes (Kate Rubin) about her inability to see God in all the tragedy in the world and her inability to fix the problems.
Prendergast grew up Catholic but left the church soon after she graduated from high school. She said there were frequent conversations during rehearsals “about how difficult it is to keep your faith when the world is so screwed up.”
Agnes is a broke alcoholic actress who moves to Toronto struggling with a teenage trauma that is revealed midway through the play. She begins as the most sympathetic character in the play, but as it progresses and the other characters develop, Agnes becomes an urban audience’s window into life in the small Maritime town.
Gina McIntosh plays Louise, the youngest sister, who never left home and who has always been “a little strange.” McIntosh’s performance is the strongest of the three. She uses the heaviest accent, and for those who are used to seeing her as Flora, the former host of Atomic Vaudeville, the change is amazing. She is able to take a withdrawn character and turn her into the heart and soul of the play.
Watching actors work on their trade without the distraction of complicated lights and sets is a rewarding experience, and each of these actors have enough talent to keep an audience interested through two acts.
JANUARY 10, 2007