Julie Lynn Mortensen, Cara Cunningham, Shauna Johannesen, and Kerri Norris in Common Grace. Photo by Emily Cooper.
Julie Lynn Mortensen, Cara Cunningham, Shauna Johannesen, and Kerri Norris in Common Grace. Photo by Emily Cooper.

The upcoming production of Shauna Johannesen’s Common Grace at Pacific Theatre not only marks the company’s first fully mounted production from its play development program, it also marks the first professional role for Vancouver actor Cara Cunningham.

“Yes, it is very exciting,” says Cunningham just a few days from joining the rest of the show’s cast in rehearsals.  “I really should be learning my lines a bit more, which is silly because that is the easiest part.”

She isn’t too nervous though, as she has been involved in the development of Common Grace from the beginning.  As part of Pacific Theatre’s “Working With” play development program, a handful of select playwrights have met every couple of weeks for the last two years to read and provide feedback on each other’s work. Like the upcoming production of Common Grace, the end result is a staged production at Vancouver’s faith-based theatre company.

“It really has helped to have been part of the play development process,” she says. “The great thing about being in it from the beginning is how you feel like you’ve come to know the people.”

For the playwright the program has been “a perfect kind of playwright haven”.

Cara Cunningham
Cara Cunningham makes her professional debut in Pacific Theatre’s Common Grace

“Not only did I get fantastic notes and insight that helped me grow the play, but I also got the encouragement and support I needed to keep going,” says Johannesen.

In Common Grace, Cunningham plays Alanna, the younger sister to Colleen who returns to her hometown for their father’s funeral and must confront her past.

“[Colleen] comes back home to the small town she grew up in, and she has to clean up the mess that she left behind,” explains Cunningham. “She has to face her demons, her family and the community.”

Ironically, Cunningham’s character has the same name of her real-life sister, and she can also relate to Colleen’s plight. “I come from the Valley myself, so I really ‘get’ this family,” she says.

For Johannesen, who plays Colleen in her own play, Common Grace explores what happens when someone does something they never thought they would do. “What happens to your sense of self? What happens to the way you move forward?”

With both Cunningham and playwright somewhat guarded as to the nature of Colleen’s dilemma in the play to preserve the surprise for audiences, they do say that as her secrets are revealed she must decide not only if she can live with herself, but if she can fit into the world she left behind.

Common Grace plays Pacific Theatre (1440 West 12 Ave, Vancouver) January 29 – February 14. Visit http://pacifictheatre.org for tickets and information.