Fueling up for a tour to Surrey and other B.C. cities is “Driving Me Crazy,” a comedy-drama about three generations of a family forced to navigate the highways of life.
The play stars Ellie King as Liz, a grandmother fighting to keep her driver’s license, but that’s not the real-life case for King right now — far from it, apparently.
“At the moment I own three vehicles and a trailer, so there’s a big truck and a MR2 turbo and I still have my electric car, too,” King said with a laugh during a break from rehearsals in North Vancouver.
She’s travelled the highway there from Langley, but King has sold her Brookswood-area house and now plans a move to Mission. This life path for the longtime thespian and playmaker follows the October 2022 death of her beloved husband, Geoff King, who helped her build Royal Canadian Theatre Company over the past decade-plus.
Last summer King retired from running from the Whalley-based company to return to acting, and then along came “Driving Me Crazy” at the perfect time. She was offered the role of Liz for a spring 2023 tour that includes four show times at Surrey Arts Centre’s Main Stage from March 1 to 4.
“Losing Geoff, I was not in a good space, and doing this could not have come at a more opportune moment for me,” she said. “It hasn’t filled the gap, because it just can’t do that, but it’s given me something to think about, you know, something to do.”
King now has “the unbelievable pleasure” of just being an actor again.
“I’ve been 30 years running theatre companies or producing shows, directing, writing grants, booking venues, all that, and I haven’t had time for me. There were some acting bits here and there, doing Shirley (Valentine) off and on, and now I’m way past that. So other than that I haven’t had much of a chance to be on stage, until relatively recently.”
Serendipity Theatre’s “Driving Me Crazy” is about a family and their relationships with each other as experienced via their vehicles. King’s character interacts with a son and daughter-in-law addicted to their cars, a granddaughter passionate about the environmental fight against gas-guzzling vehicles, and a grandson who must learn hard lessons about drinking and driving.
The Roy Surette-directed production kicks off a tour at North Vancouver’s Presentation House Theatre on Saturday and Sunday (Feb. 25-26) before travelling to theatres in Surrey, Coquitlam, Maple Ridge, Burnaby, Nanaimo and West Vancouver.
First staged in North Van in 2022 with Nicola Cavendish in the role of Liz, the play is described by King as “really well written — it’s clever, funny and poignant, very good,” she said in a phone call.
Written by Linda A. Carson and Suzanne Ristic, the script received honourable mention in the 2019 National Theatre B.C. Playwriting competition, and the reviews were good last June.
Surette, King said, is a masterful director, “and the actors I’m working with — this is going to sound flaky and artsy, but I honestly feel they’re like family,” King gushed. “There’s one scene I won’t give away, it’s a surreal scene, but at the end of it they go from being these strangers to being part of my family, and I genuinely found myself tearing up because it felt so real. It’s a real family feeling, which is amazing, because we’ve only been working together since last Tuesday. The bond is very strong already.”
For the current tour, the “Driving Me Crazy” cast also features Merewyn Comeau, Dylan Floyde, Brian Linds and Suzanne Ristic (the play co-writer).
Serendipity Theatre Collective grew out of a North Vancouver writing circle, The Word Stir Group, which works collaboratively to help theatre creators find their audience. A bio says Serendipity chooses new plays “that tell contemporary stories (that) reflect our community’s dreams, loves and fears; stories that become a catalyst for humans to reflect upon their lives, their communities and the world; stories that help us celebrate our diversity and the vital role it plays in our societies.”
For the Surrey run of “Driving Me Crazy,” tickets range from $29 to $39 on tickets.surrey.ca, or call 604-501-5566. Show times at Surrey Arts Centre are Wednesday, March 1 at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 2 at 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 3 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, March 4 at 4 p.m.
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