Consider it one of the more difficult plays Vancouverite Chris McGregor has ever directed.
The Soul Menders, which opens Thursday at the Guild, presented McGregor with challenges he’s never had to face in his more than 20 years of working in theatre.
Forty different scenes, 15 set locations, an unusual number of costume changes, a playhouse that doesn’t have any wings or backstage area, and a cast with varying levels of acting experience – some with none at all – meant McGregor had to be creative in his style of directing.
“I didn’t know anyone when I walked in the door to work on this play,” he said.
He took up the project, however, when Gwaandak Theatre contacted him looking for someone that would be comfortable directing a comedy, working with young actors and also handling the demands that come from directing a newly written play.
With all the inherent challenges, an emotional connection to the play, written by Whitehorse playwright, Patti Flather, was essential.
“I just loved the quirkiness of it,” he said, adding that some of the lines and scenes in the play seem to “come out of nowhere.”
The Soul Menders is about the evolving relationship between a newly divorced mother and her 17-year-old son. Alone and “man-frenzied,” Bea (played by Vancouver actress Suzanne Ristic), tries to put her divorce behind her by hitting the dating scene. But the strain of the holiday season throws her into some fairly hilarious but embarrassing situations, said Flather.
The Soul Menders may be a comedy, but there’s still a lot of soul-searching in the play, said Flather.
The piece involves a lot of dark humour.
“It’s about people being self-centred and selfish with those they love,” she said.
“It’s often easier to take for granted those people that are closer to you – until those loved one’s say, ‘Enough.’”
The play takes place over a period of 24 days during the lead-up to Christmas.
“I chose Christmas time because we put a lot of pressure on that being a perfect time of the year – that it’s supposed to be perfect, fun, sexy and glamourous,” said Flather.
But that image comes to a crashing halt for Bea, who has to accept things as they are rather than how she thinks they should be.
And her struggles are mirrored by other characters in the play straining to connect with loved ones: a widowed husband (Roy Ness), his alienated daughter (Krystal Dawn), a forestry executive who is trying to get in touch with his feelings (Doug Mayr) and a proudly single mother (Sophia Marnik) round out the cast.
The play, set in Flather’s hometown of North Vancouver, is one that she has long wanted write.
“I had a lot of material from growing up with friends and family there,” she said.
It’s a distinct turn from her other plays, which dealt with much darker subject matters, like Sixty Below, which she co-wrote with Leonard Linklater in 1989.
Writing a comedy has been something she’s wanted to do for a long time.
Because it’s a newly conceived play, The Soul Menders went through several rewrites on and off stage, and even included editorial suggestions from the cast.
“Sometimes the actors did a 180 from what was written in the script,” said McGregor.
“In the end it made the piece more visceral and fun.”
McGregor still isn’t sure how the play will go over in Whitehorse because the city is new to him.
“This community seems to know art and theatre like no other. I feel like you can challenge them and they’ll get it,” he said.
“Well, I hope they get it,” he adds with a smile.
The Soul Menders opens Thursday at the Guild at 8 p.m. and runs until December 5th.
Tickets are $18/$20 at Whitehorse Motors.
Contact Vivian Belik at firstname.lastname@example.org