MORRISBURG – “This show is a true comedy, filled with lots of laughs,” said director Donnie Bowes at a June 29th press conference launching the new Upper Canada Playhouse production of Sarah Quick’s Knickers. “But there is also a poignancy to this play. Audiences will laugh, but they will also, I think, go home with something to think about.”
Knickers’ author Sarah Quick understands small towns, the people who live in them, and the often colourful and humourous qualities that make up their lives. (After all, Quick runs a summer theatre in the little Ontario village of Bobcaygeon.) Her comedy takes a wonderfully funny look at the very real challenges such little communities often face.
Fictional Elliston Falls, Ontario, is facing the ultimate disaster: its largest employer, the paper mill, has suddenly announced that it is closing its doors forever. There won’t be a family or business in the entire community (which has relied on jobs at the mill for generations) which will not be affected by the shut down.
Yet what can the town do to save itself?
“In Knickers,” director Bowes said, “four ladies with guts and imagination decide to try and turn this disaster around.”
Habitués of the local Weight Watchers where they hatch their scheme, Mary, Barb and Terri soon rope Amanda, the visiting tourism officer, into their unusual plan to kick start the economy of Elliston Falls again.
Just what will their business plans revolve around?
To bring this ‘slice of life’ comedy to “life on the stage”, Bowes has chosen a strong and versatile cast.
All are veteran actors: three have performed at the Playhouse in other productions.
Brenda Quesnel, Stephanie Folkins, Alanis Peart and newcomer Heather Dick are, as Heather put it, “having so much fun rehearsing.”
“We play real people,” said Alanis, “real people leading real lives.”
“And these are women who are relatable,” added Stephanie. “They are people you might actually know and recognize.”
Each of the four characters is a distinct person.
“Terri is deeply affected by the mill closing, both she and her husband,” said Brenda. “She emerges as a leader as the community copes.”
Stephanie’s Mary has “a lot of heart and soul. She’s a caregiver.”
“My Amanda has made some mistakes in her tourism career,” explained Alanis, “and has been basically banished to Elliston Falls.”
“Barb,” said Heather, “rallies the troops and tries to keep everyone else going.”
Besides these four key characters, the actors are called upon to create a series of other, smaller but no less real, citizens from the town.
“This is a real acting challenge,” said Bowes. “Every one of the cast plays at least four other characters from the community, some of them male, all of them unique.”
Throughout the play “we shift into these incredible little characters,” laughed Heather. “Part of the fun in this show is creating them.”
To suggest the full flavour of a small town in the production, a town with its meeting halls, its restaurants and homes and streets, set designer Jason Jennings (who is also the Playhouse lighting and technical director) has been called upon to build a truly versatile set.
“We needed a bigger realistic dining and meeting hall,” he explained, “but we also needed other spaces for scenes we could shift into quickly. For the show we built a revolve, that allow us do this, to make these small separate spaces. It also creates more play for interesting lighting.”
The show is also a more demanding one for stage manager Jackie McCormick and ASM Maya Bowers. “We have to really organize our time, and make everything work both with the characters’ choices and with Donnie’s vision.” Jackie explained.
Knickers, on stage at Upper Canada Playhouse July 5 until July 30, is a special comedy about a special small town, and four very special women who are determined to “save their community”…possibly one pair of custom designed underwear at a time!