It’s been a few years since the Winnipeg company Theatre By the River lived up to its name and mounted a production... by the river.
But the company is going back to the source, so to speak, by mounting Scottish playwright Zinnie Harris’s Meet Me at Dawn by the banks of the Red, some 15 years after the company launched in 2006 with its production of The Comedy of Errors, produced on the banks of the Assiniboine River, a walnut toss from Sargent Sundae.
THEATRE PREVIEWClick to Expand
Meet Me at Dawn
By Zinnie Harris
Theatre By the River
● Whittier Park ● To Saturday, Sept 18
● Tickets $15-$35 with pay-what-you-can option
The timing seemed right, says TBTR artistic director Mel Marginet, who also stars in the drama opposite Alissa Watson.
"I read about the show about two or three years ago and I thought: Wow, that’s seems to fit in the Theatre By the River world of shows we’d be interested in," Marginet says.
The play centres on two women who have washed up on shore after a boating accident. Dazed by the trauma, they resolve to make their way home, but first they have to determine where they actually are.
"I pitched it to the company towards the end of 2019 when we officially gave it the green light," Marginet says. "And then of course COVID happened.
"We had already settled on doing it. It was going to be an indoor show," she says. "But that just became impossible so we gave it a push and we just reimagined it outdoors in the open air.
"It seemed to fit," she says "The show is about two women washing up on shore and here we are in this river city, so we thought maybe we could do it somewhere by the river.
"The more we were reading it and re-exploring it with all that we’ve been through with COVID, the themes of the play seemed to fit the times we’re in," Marginet says. "It’s all about exploring grief and loss and it’s funny and heartbreaking all at the same time. So it really became just the perfect show."
But Marginet acknowledges that producing a play outdoors in downtown Winnipeg has its challenges, a notion seconded by the play’s director Cherissa Richards, whose personal experience of outdoor plays was limited to a single production of Richard III for Shakespeare in the Ruins in 2016.
It’s been exciting," Richards says. "The elements are tricky.
"We’re performing the show in Whittier Park by the bank of the river in a city that is loud and bustling," she says. "We’re right across the river from the Exchange, so there’s lots of fire trucks, ambulances and the car traffic is quite loud. But at night it does quiet down quite a bit.
"It’s ultimately a story of grief, and the many stages we go through to deal with our grief," Richards says, adding that theme gives the show a topicality it might have missed in 2019.
"We’ve just survived through a pandemic and dealt with all this craziness in the past year and a half," Richards says. That circumstance allows an audience to "empathize with these characters and understand what they’re going through."
Despite the hit live theatre has taken during the pandemic, Richards has had the opportunity to keep working, not only acting in Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s streaming production of The Mountaintop, but also as a director, co-directing the Prairie Theatre Exchange online production of Ismaila Alfa’s Voice alongside Thomas Morgan Jones and doing directing apprenticeships at the Stratford Festival and Bard on the Beach.
"In today’s world you have to diversify," Richards says. "I always say I’m a better actor after I’ve directed and I’m a better director after I’ve acted."
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.