It’s a far cry from the rugged, storm-battered coast of Newfoundland, but the Yukon Arts Centre stage has made the transformation.
Using only four chairs, a table, a mat and a sheet, Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador has re-created The Rock’s northern peninsula circa 1921 for its production of Tempting Providence.
“They talk about suspension of disbelief a lot in theatre, but this isn’t suspension of disbelief, it is quite the opposite of that; it is asking the audience to engage their imagination because they know it is not a realistic set,” said actor Darryl Hopkins.
“It’s really evocative, because they’re not sitting there being fed this uber-realism that we are used to seeing with movies and big-budget theatre productions; they are sitting there and really having to lean in with their mind to actually get a picture of what is going on.”
Everyone has images of what it was like in the ‘20s in Newfoundland, even if they haven’t been there, he added.
The production follows the life of Myra Bennett, a young English nurse who arrives in the desolate coastal village of Daniel’s Harbour.
Winters are harsh on the northern peninsula and the folk aren’t too friendly towards outsiders.
But Bennett persisted, earning the title Florence Nightingale of the North.
“It’s a story of isolation, of finding your place and wanting to belong,” said actor Robert Thorne.
Trudging up and down the snowy coast, Bennett slowly earned the respect of the families she nursed, and met the man she soon married.
“She starts off as such a hard-ass and then we see her relationship slowly develop with the town’s people and her husband,” said Hopkins.
But she never really felt her actions had any consequence until the life of her husband’s brother was threatened.
“It’s a big internal struggle, finding her place in life and in these small towns,” he said.
Bennett’s altruism is striking.
“And it resonates with people when they realize this is a real story, not a fictional life.”
People leave the theatre wanting to do one nice thing for someone else, added Thorne.
“You start watching, knowing it’s a true story, but as you’re sucked in by the play; you forget,” he said.
“And when we remind the audience at the end of the play that it’s a true story you can hear audible gasps. There’s this collective sigh in the audience — it gives me goose bumps.”
“It’s also nice to share our heroes with each other,” said Hopkins.
It’s a beautiful Newfoundland story that lets people know what is happening on the East Coast.
“Part of the company’s mandate is to present theatre that reveals the culture of Newfoundland,” said tour manager Denise Dolliver.
“And it’s great to say, ‘Hey look, this is a story from our part of the world,’ rather than touring something like New York, New York,” said Hopkins.
“I had no idea who Myrna Bennett was before this play,” he admitted.
“I’m from the opposite side of the island.”
Once Newfoundland became part of Canada, a lot of its history was lost, he said.
Schools began teaching Canadian history and the textbooks left out the island’s history.
But now it is getting resurrected in schools and in the arts community.
The 25-year-old theatre company has been performing Finding Providence for the past four years.
And the production has toured all over the world including to Edinburgh’s Street Festival, rural England and even Tasmania.
“We have performed in everything from community halls with ghetto blasters and fluorescent lights to theatres that seat several thousand,” said Hopkins.
“My own joke that it will run as long as Star Trek has come around and bit me in the ass,” he said with a laugh.
All four cast members studied in the same theatre program at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Newfoundland.
And after four years performing together, it is starting to feel like one big family, they said.
“My own personality is being shaped by the play and has changed from (performing) it so often, “ said Hopkins, who plays Bennett’s husband.
Thorne, who plays multiple characters in the production, was initially dedicated to hockey, but blew out his knee in Grade 12.
“A few weeks later, I followed this really good looking girl into the library and it ended up being a drama meeting,” he said laughing.
The rest is history.
The cast and crew arrived in Whitehorse a week early.
“We’d never been up here, and it was come up early or spend another week in Calgary, so we came up,” said Dolliver.
They were hoping to perform Tempting Providence in Dawson as well, but the set didn’t arrive in time.
Instead the cast has been enjoying Whitehorse nightlife and managed to get some dog sledding in.
Tempting Providence runs tonight through Friday at the Yukon Arts Centre. Shows begin at 8 p.m.
Tickets, available at Hougen’s and the Arts Centre box office, are $20; students and seniors pay $15.