Categories: Entertainment

St. Albert Dinner Theatre opens the season with The View From Here, a comedic look at mental illness

Players (from left) Anne-Marie Smyth as Carla, Rob Beeston as Arnold, Monica Lefurgey as Fern and Raven Dudley as Maple, enact a scene during a photocall for St. Albert Dinner Theatre's 'The View From Here' at the Kinsmen Banquet Hall in St. Albert November 4, 2017.

The View From Here
St. Albert Dinner Theatre
Nov. 9 to 11, 16 to 18 and 23 to 25
Kinsmen Banquet Hall
47 Riel Dr.
Tickets: $50 to $55. Call 780-222-0102 or at http://www.stalberttheatre.com

In our politically correct world it’s not popular to make jokes about mental health issues. But the minute you say “don’t” to anyone in theatre, there’s an immediate push-back.

Now enjoying its seventh season, St. Albert Dinner Theatre (formerly St. Albert Theatre Troupe), is raising the seasonal curtain with American playwright Margaret Dulaney’s comedy, The View From Here.

Set in Kentucky in the mid ’80s, the two-act show works to reduce the stigma of mental illness by normalizing it through a sensitive blend of poignant insights and humorous jokes.

“When I saw the script, I thought I’d like to act in it. But the more I read the script, the more I realized I’d like to direct it,” said director Lori Chenger, a certified hypnotherapist specializing in dementia, and an instructor at Robertson College’s community support worker program.

“I work in the field and I saw characters that were so real, but they laughed at themselves, not at the illness. They just laugh to make light of the situation they are in.”

During an interview, the Kentucky born and raised Dulaney states she “was raised by a group of women who were quite magical. My work reflects their mystical stories and quirky southern personalities.”

The story pivots around Fern (Monica Lefurgey), a woman who suffers from agoraphobia, a coping mechanism for past traumas. The walls of the house act as a fence around Fern’s limited life. To pay the bills, she babysits young children.

“People come to her life. But she doesn’t go out,” Chenger said.

The stress spikes when Fern enters a contest and wins a microwave from the local grocery store only to discover she is required to accept it in person.

As the play opens, her visiting sister Maple (Raeven Dudley), enduring pressure from an anxious husband eager to conceive a child, is withdrawn, in an unresponsive stupor. At the opposite extreme Carla (Anne Marie-Smyth), a bigger-than-life busybody, drops in to check on Fern.

“Carla listens to the police scanner. She lives in a world of tabloids. She’s a very eccentric character,” said Chenger.

Arnold (Rob Beeston), a neighbour living across the street, has just inherited a new set of problems. His wife departed with the furniture but left the baby. Unfortunately, Arnold lacks the skills to care for himself, let alone a baby.

“Each character has their own idiosyncrasies. It’s a world of heavy problems where make-believe clashes with reality. When a crisis happens, the lines alter the reality and these zany characters show you how they bridge the gap between reality and the world they live in.”

A View From Here was produced off-Broadway and at numerous community theatres. It received multiple internet reviews from both ends of the spectrum.  One of the essential ingredients in a successful production is choosing the right actors to carry the roles.

“These actors lead other lives, yet they find the time to convey the words not just from the mind, but from the heart. I have found a beautiful cast who have found the words and emotion to go with it.”

Mental health is a hard sell, however the play is cranking up the message without preaching. And that message is about pricking the stigma, laughing with it, normalizing it and ultimately accepting people.

In documenting her vision of theatre Dulaney stated, “I imagine theatre is developing at the same slow drip as humanity. My hope is that the theatre will lift people, however that might be accomplished. Lift us into laughter, into a broader view, into understanding.”

The View From Here runs at the Kinsmen Banquet Centre from Nov. 9 to 11, 16 to 18 and 23 to 25.


Anna Borowiecki :Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.