The 12th Annual Carol Shields Festival of New Works was presented at the Prairie Theatre Exchange last weekend. The festival features playwrights’ works that are still in development and gives the audience a glimpse into the workings of this creative process.
Final theatre productions or films that people watch are the culmination of a long journey that begins with a director conceiving of an idea of what they want their play or film to look like. Ideas can come from a book or story which is then adapted into a script.
Before the actors even hit the stage, there will be readings of the script and changes will be made. This process is what the Festival of New Works is all about.
Director and playwright Daniel Thau-Eleff’s play Deserter had its first public reading on Saturday to a full house at the Prairie Theatre Exchange as part of the festival. Deserter is a work of fiction but is based on real events from Joshua Key’s book The Deserter’s Tale.
Key was a 24-year-old who enlisted in the U.S. Army as a way to provide for his wife and kids. He was told he would not have to go into combat.
Less than a year later he found himself in Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction.
After six-and-a-half months, he was given a two week leave of absence and decided on moral grounds he wouldn’t go back, thinking it was an unjust war.
He fled to Canada and has been trying to gain residency here since. He is wanted in the US for desertion and could face a prison sentence if he goes back. His decade long battle continues.
Deserter touches upon many issues such as terrorism and morality, as well as the effects of war and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The five actors were all seated on stage with their scripts in front of them. Director Daniel Thau-Eleff read the stage direction notes (i.e. lights go down, scene two, etc.) from the side of the stage. The actors in the ‘scenes’ would stand up and read their lines.
All the actors were brilliant in their performances with Arne MacPherson and Michael Lawrenchuk each playing two parts. Karl Thordarson played the part of Staff Sargent Yeo who encouraged the young recruit to “go ahead and joke about my name.”
Charlene Van Buekenhout played the wife of the soldier, who was left at home with their kids, believing her husband was fighting a just war in his attempts to stamp out terrorism. The soldier went to war thinking what they were doing was right, but the longer he was there, the more he started to doubt this.
Jeff Strome was convincing in his portrayal of the soldier, Curtis Colby. The scenes of him suffering from PTSD were realistic as he made the audience feel for what he was going through from the horrors he experienced in Iraq. (As someone who has gone through PTSD myself, as a result of a car accident, he made my problems seem rather trivial).
One particular scene brought a few laughs as Colby was with his pregnant wife when she asked him to talk and sing to the child in the womb. After he nervously spoke, there was the sound of a baby. Many thought this was a production sound effect but it turned out that Joshua Key and his wife were in the audience with their baby Skye (which I found out later).
The play eventually went into the theatre of the absurd as Canada’s Prime Minister became a character in the play talking about his love of hockey.
The production was in two acts of about 65 minutes each with a short intermission. After the play, Joshua Key and Daniel Thau-Eleff held a brief discussion after which they fielded questions from the audience. Key sold signed copies of his book after the talk.
Any good art form raises questions in our minds and makes audiences think. This reading was no exception.
Like the main character in the play, I began to wonder myself, who are the real terrorists. The people in Iraq were not living in very good conditions under Saddam Hussein, but after he was gone and the US Army came in, conditions weren’t much better. It’s sad how many lives are affected by wars – the soldiers, their families and the civilians.
I’m looking forward to seeing this play in its finished form.
All photos by Doug Kretchmer