Gustavo Febres is used to playing a variety of roles on stage, but not like in “Seventeen.”
The South Surrey-based actor is cast as three different teenage boys in Western Gold Theatre’s drama, a challenging one for all eight veteran thespians in the North American debut of what’s being called a groundbreaking play by Australian author Matthew Whittet.
They all play present-day teenagers — “young and on the brink of life at a pivotal moment” at the end of the school year, according to a plot synopsis on westerngoldtheatre.org, for the Nov. 3-20 run at PAL Studio Theatre in Vancouver.
“‘Seventeen’ provides a sense of déjà vu and brilliantly turns our notions of adulthood and adolescence on their head,” the website promises. “As dawn approaches, through a fog of cheap beer, dreams are shared, insecurities aired.”
Febres, 61, is a fit for Western Gold’s focus on “sharing and celebrating the talents of senior professional theatre artists,” age 55-plus. The company also mentors younger professional artists.
In the 1990s artistic director Tanja Dixon-Warren helped bring “Tony and Tina’s Wedding” to the stage for a very long run in Vancouver, and Febres was a versatile actor in the hit dinner-theatre comedy.
“That was 20 years ago, seven years in a row, every week,” Febres elaborated. “I learned all the roles and played them all, pretty much, even the ones not likely for me, like the emcee. But I knew the play so well, all the dialogue and characters, all the songs, that I could do it, because I heard it every night. So I think because of that, they knew I could do this play (‘Seventeen’), the three roles I’m doing.”
Born in Venezuela, Febres acted in The L Word (2004), Battlestar Galactica (2004) and Dark Angel (2000) after moving to Vancouver three decades ago. A former journalist, he restarted his career and learned English, in part, by taking small roles on the stage, and now has a number of productions to his credit.
Febres says he loves taking on unexpected roles, and in “Seventeen” embraces the challenge of being a “three-track actor” playing a trio of characters (Tom, Mike and Ronnie).
“The company had a decent idea to bring in a 17-year-old guy to coach us in our rehearsal,” Febres said, “and it’s been so good because even body language, you know, it’s incredible. I’ve seen my nephews but I’ve never really paid attention to the way they sit or walk, or the clothes they wear, the music they listen to. But this coach we had said, ‘No, we don’t do that, we don’t sit like that, or talk like that.’ It was interesting to know how a 17-year-old would behave nowadays.”
The seven other actors in the play are Stephen Aberle (as Tom), David Bloom (Mike), Eileen Barrett (Lizzie), Linda Pollard (Jess), Suzanne Ristic (Emelia), Maki Yi (Emelia, Jess, Lizzie) and Allan Zinyk (Ronnie).
Whittet’s script, originally set in England, is set in Vancouver for Western Gold’s production at the PAL theatre, with Michael Fera directing. For show times, tickets and more info, visit westerngoldtheatre.org.
“It’s a drama but it has a lot of comedy, too,” Febres noted. “With that transition between being a teenager and going into being an adult, people around you have expectations about your future, right. There’s one character that’s in conflict because he’s been such a rebel, now the parents don’t want to deal with that at all, and kick him out of the house. He hasn’t finished high school but is living on the streets. There are black-humour touches.”
As for “Tony and Tina’s Wedding,” Febres said he’d play in it again, for sure, but isn’t so sure he’ll get that chance.
“One alumni of the show, he remounted it briefly before the pandemic, got the rights and did four or five shows, but then pandemic started and we stopped everything,” he said. “It was bad timing, you know, but I don’t think it will begin again, because the venue was taken by a permanent group, and I haven’t heard anything about plans to do it again. I love the show, oh yes.”