Belfry Theatre’s production Alice Munro Stories presents two of Munro’s celebrated short stories – “Differently” (from Friend of My Youth, 1990) and “Save the Reaper” (from The Love of a Good Woman, 1998) – in an all new theatrical format, word for word. Last year, director Anita Rochon (who created How to Disappear Completely, Through the Gaze of a Navel, and KISMET one to one hundred) and the Belfry’s Artistic Director Michael Shamata travelled to San Francisco to meet with JoAnne Winter and Susan Harloe from Word for Word, which since 1993, creates theatre using only the words as they were written by the original author.
The first story “Differently” is set in Victoria and tells the story of a friendship between two women, Georgia and May, and the demise of their marriages and eventually their friendship. Set in a hospital room, the story is told, word for word, by the five characters portraying the hospital staff, the patient. and her husband. The adaptation of the short story evolves gradually from reading the short story to pass the time, to performing it with the use of props, unveiling the complexities of the relationships and friendships in the character’s lives, and culminating in Georgia’s insightful reflection on life and relationships: that despite knowing that we all die, we don’t live our lives like we know that. When asked how we should be living our lives, Georgia replies, “Differently.”
Alice Munro became a famous Canadian author in 1968 with her first collection of short stories, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013. In 1949, Alice married James Munro. They moved to Dundarave, West Vancouver, for James’s job in a department store. In 1963, the couple moved to Victoria, where they opened Munro’s Books, which still operates. According to Jim Munro, Alice Munro began to write after reading some of the bookstore’s stock and deciding angrily that “I can write better books than this.” Although Alice Munro has not had any relation to the bookstore for decades, the store still receives fan and press calls asking for her.
“Save the Reaper” is a story about a re-connection between a mother and her grown daughter and her children. When Eve takes her grandchildren on a drive, reminiscing about her life and showing them places she recognizes from her past, she encounters various characters who unsettle her. As the story unfolds, we get simultaneously external and internal glimpses into the protagonist’s world and personality. The ride she takes us on is emotionally exhilarating, thrilling, suspenseful, and moving.
All five performances by Caroline Gillis, Arggy Jenati, Gerry Mackay, Michael Scholar Jr., and Jenny Wasko-Paterson are moving and inspiring. They slip in and out of multiple personifications seamlessly and masterfully. Director Anita Rochon managed to make the short stories come alive and yet leave room for our imaginations to soar and play. You can catch it at the Belfry until May 14, 2017.
Photos by David Cooper