Playwright Stewart Lemoine’s love affair with history surfaces once more in The Hothouse Prince opening tomorrow night at the Backstage Theatre.
Last presented in 2000 at Teatro La Quindicina, this majestic epic sweeps across Russia, Paris and finally Canada as a coming of age story.
The time is Bolshevik Russia and revolution is blanketing the country. The young teenage Grand Duke Dimitri Romanov-Orsk is ousted from the security of his palace and forced to face a completely unfamiliar world.
The wide-eyed Dimitri finds his way to Paris and lives in its dark underbelly for a time before sailing to Canada in a cattle boat to live with Ontario farmers. Helped by three sisters on a fantastic journey, Dimitri’s worldview changes and he comes to realize why he became the enemy of his people.
Lemoine was first commissioned to write the play for Citadel Theatre’s 1991 Teen Festival of the Arts. Today’s production is also stacked with a cast of young emerging artists including St. Albert Children’s Theatre alumni Luc Tellier (Nutcracker Unhinged) and Cynthia Hicks.
“A hothouse is a place where fragile flowers bloom and thrive. What happens to them when you take them out of the environment,” Lemoine asked when writing his first draft.
He selected the Russian revolution as a backdrop simply because of his fascination with the era and the horrors the Bolsheviks created.
“I wanted to put a human face on it. Also when I was a younger playwright, I was obsessed with European culture. I wrote a lot of plays that took place in Budapest. I wanted to get a feel for European characters.”
As with all Lemoine plays, the characters have quirky facets to their personalities.
Tellier, who plays Dimitri, describes the 17-year-old as a sweet person who leads a repetitive life in the protected, shielded confines of palace walls.
“He doesn’t know it at the beginning, but he is waiting for his life to start. When he’s forced to flee the palace, he does a lot of growing up very quickly. He learns to take charge of his own life. Beyond the people at the palace, it’s his first time meeting people who don’t speak the same language. They are cut from a different cloth, but he learns how to adjust,” Tellier said.
While Tellier is building a budding career in the capital region, Hicks just graduated from the National Theatre School. Her home is now Toronto and she is a member of Fu-Gen, an Asian Theatre Co.
However, she was back in Edmonton for a brief stay with family – former Edmonton Sun columnist Graham Hicks is her father – and landed the role of Princess Xhan-Xhu (pronounced Zhan-Zhu).
The mysterious exotic is a Parisian opium dealer, a free spirit with an unconventional side.
“She has no boundaries when it comes to her business. Her dark side needs the business to survive. I find it so much fun to play that character since I’m 180 degrees from her,” Hicks said.
Xhan-Xhu brings an element of surprise to Dimitri’s life, much as Lemoine’s scripts often catch us unawares.
Teatro productions often take place in one location in a short time capsule. Instead The Hothouse Prince is a larger-than-life adventure spanning continents.
Lemoine completes the telephone interview saying, “It’s emotionally big and we don’t shy away from horrible things. But it’s also funny. What I like best is that this is an incredible opportunity for young people to have a role. They own it, and there’s no better actor than someone like Luc Tellier to play Dimitri.”
The Hothouse Prince
Teatro La Quindicina
Oct. 1 to 17
Gateway Blvd. (103 St.) and 84 Ave.
Tickets: 780-420-1757 or at tixonthesquare.ca