Returning for a sixth season, the Ensemble Theatre Company presents its annual Summer Repertory Festival, featuring a trio of productions.
Forgoing the usual summertime fare, Ensemble Theatre has developed a reputation for providing more complex plays than those usually seen this time of year. 2018 will be no different, as it presents three plays from three celebrated writers showcasing the humour, intricacies, and depths from the darker recesses of life.
This year’s festival features Dark Road, the first-ever stage play from bestselling crime writer Ian Rankin, co-written with Mark Thomson. Haunted by the conviction of Alfred Chalmers for the gruesome murder of four young women, the now retiring Chief Constable decides the time has come for her to find some answers. What follows is a thriller that throws herself, and those around her, into a psychological battle against the convicted murderer.
Also on stage is Aaron Sorkin’s stage production of A Few Good Men. Inspired by the Academy Award-nominated film of the same name, and based on true events, it is the story of two US Marines accused of murder, and the lawyers who uncover a conspiracy that quickly escalates to the highest ranks of the military.
The third offering this year is Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Considered by many to be a modern classic of the Irish theatre, it is set in the mountains of Ireland’s Connemara district, and tells the story of Maureen Folan, a plain and lonely woman in her early 40s, and Mag, her manipulative, aging mother.
“To me, theatre is a means of generating empathy. It gives us a window to understanding each other a little more – our different and diverse hopes, aspirations, dreams, and fears,” says Ensemble Theatre Company’s artistic director, Tariq Leslie, on this year’s offerings.
As in past years, the actors rotate through two of the three shows, playing on alternating nights. For example, this year, actors Michael Kiapway and Christine Reinfort perform in both A Few Good Men and Dark Road.
In A Few Good Men, Kiapway plays Lance Corporal Harold Dawson, the marine accused of murdering a fellow soldier. Kiapway is, however, a little more enigmatic about his other role.
“In Dark Road I play Foxhead, a mysterious man with a fox’s head,” he says.
While Reinfort also appears in both shows, she has been tasked with playing three different characters between the them.
In A Few Good Men, Reinfort plays Lieutenant Jacqueline Ross, who she describes as a “down-to-earth, no-nonsense and ambitious prosecuting attorney”.
It is in Dark Road where Reinfort plays two characters, including Janice, a Royal-loving constable from London’s east end now working with the Edinburgh Police Force.
“She takes her job very seriously and makes a mean cup of coffee,” says Reinfort. “I also play Sarah, a university student trying to figure out her place in the world.
While the ensemble of actors will play distinct roles across the three plays, each play is helmed by a different director. In the case of A Few Good Men, Alan Brodie and Tariq Leslie share the director’s chair, while Dark Road is directed by Chris Lam. The Beauty Queen of Leenane is directed by Kathleen Duborg.
Kiapway has definitely seen differences between the directors he is working with this season.
“For A Few Good Men, Alan Brodie brings a very technical style to this production, and his emphasis on making the audience members feel as if they are one of the characters confined in that space,” he says. “Whereas Chris Lam’s Dark Road emphasis is on specifics, and the caution of not losing the audience within the gruesome psychological battle of wit and will, that is marked out throughout the play.”
Reinfort points to the opportunity to expand as an artist when working with more than a single director. “I always felt that I was given the freedom to explore and the support to try new things,” she says.
Providing employment for a large group of technicians, directors and actors during the usually quiet summer season, both Kiapway and Reinfort are thankful for the opportunity to work alongside such a talented group. Reinfort has also come to realize just how fond she is of this type of repertory theatre.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to dive into different worlds simultaneously,” she says. “It requires inhabiting contrasting characters; finding their heart and breathing an authentic life into them.”
Reinfort is also enjoying the process of working with two different casts.
“In any show you become like a family, and this means that I get to be a part of two theatre families this summer,” she says. “Sometimes, we even bring home-made baking, like cookies.”
But while the two actors are enjoying the process of creating, the real litmus test will come from the audience’s reactions to these very different, and challenging plays.
“This summer at Jericho Arts Centre is not a place for safe theatre,” says Kiapway. “The boundaries are defiantly pushed in these two plays.”
While she acknowledges the shows explore meaningful topics, Reinfort is a little more pragmatic about why audiences should come to the festival.
“Ensemble Theatre always has high production values and the tickets are affordable,” she says. “It’s a wonderful way to spend a [summer] evening.”
Ensemble Theatre Company’s 6th Annual Summer Repertory Festival opens at the Jericho Arts Centre on July 12 and continues through August 17. Visit ensembletheatrecompany.ca for tickets and information.