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White Rock play explores ‘moving on’ from tragedy

Peninsula Productions’ ‘Jewel’ finds humanity - and humour - amid grief
Director Ashley Chodat (left) and actor Carly Pokoradi share a laugh during a rehearsal of Jewel, by Joan MacLeod, coming to Peninsula Productions’ studio theatre March 7 to 10. (Contributed photo)

While Canadian playwright Joan MacLeod’s 1987 piece, Jewel, is rooted in real-life tragedy – it’s really about moving on.

On Valentine’s Day 1982, 87 men lost their lives when their oil drilling platform Ocean Ranger, at work off the coast of Newfoundland, collapsed and sank.

But while that’s the catalyst for MacLeod’s play, it’s less about the tragedy itself, and more about survival – particularly, the emotional survival of Marjorie, young widow of one of the victims.

Jewel, directed by Ashley Chodat, is the next staged reading in Peninsula Productions’ ongoing series at its studio theatre in Centennial Park, White Rock (March 7 to 10, 7 p.m. performances Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m. matinees only Saturday and Sunday).

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In a monologue on Valentine’s Day, three years after the disaster, the feisty Marjorie (Carly Pokoradi), now living on a trailer at a farm in Fort St. John, B.C. addresses her late husband.

Remembering the ups and downs of their relationship, the audience experiences her beginning to take first steps forward in understanding, and working her way through, her grief.

The play was actually the first for the playwright, now a professor at the University of Victoria. Formerly resident playwright for Tarragon Theatre in Toronto for some six years, she has gained international renown for such award-winning works as Amigo’s Blue Guitar (1990) and The Hope Slide (1993).

As MacLeod recalled, “I was writing about Marjorie’s feelings shortly after the tragedy happened, but it was too depressing. So I tried writing about Marjorie three years later, when she was waking to the world.

“I had met a widow, Amy, who was facing the same situation with a lot of spirit. She was funny. She was being a smartass to avoid something painful. So I put a lot of Amy into the voice of Marjorie. And suddenly the character came alive.”

As director, Chodat said she “really related to the way it explores the story of a widow from the perspective of a young woman.”

“It’s very much a love letter (to her husband). It’s her way of saying goodbye – so there are moments that are melancholy and bittersweet,” she added.

“But it’s also about how we honour those we have loved, while finding hope and courage, moving forward, and regaining one’s own identity. And it also shows how grief brings people together.”

Along with the expected sadness of the situation, the script also has a great deal of humour, Chodat noted.

“Marjorie is a very energetic character, and she walks us through some of her previous relationships in a way that is very relatable and very funny.”

Chodat, herself a playwright and dramaturg, has worked with Bard on the Beach, Arts Club, The Cultch, PTC, Green Thumb, Arts Umbrella, Little Mountain Lion, Carousel Theatre for Young People (Vancouver) Theatre SKAM, and Kaleidoscope (Victoria).

Her recent play June Bug was judged a winner at both the Vancouver Fringe and Victoria Fringe festivals.

Now returned to the Semiahmoo Peninsula (her home since her teen years), after earning her B.A. in Fine Arts in Victoria, she is particularly enjoying being able to reconnect with Peninsula Productions, with whom she previously worked as an actor.

She’s also enjoying working with Pokoradi, a Jessie Richardson Award-winner, an artistic associate with Monster Theatre, a graduate of Studio 58, and one half of the comedy duo The Dangerous Janes.

Among her recent credits are Juliet: A Revenge Comedy (a holdover hit for The Cultch/Monster Theatre), Snow White (Carousel Theatre for Young People), and The Löwensköld Ring (Little Mountain Lion Productions).

“Carly’s been a dream to work with,” Chodat said. “I’ve been a fan of her work for some time.

“She’s so present and so funny in rehearsal, and brings so many unique offers – it’s been a very collaborative process.

“She’s also an incredible physical performer so, although this is a staged reading, she has been finding so many ways to bring physicality into it, and humour through it.”

Above all, Chodat said, she hopes Jewel will resonate with the local audience – and perhaps even provide a relatable sense of healing.

“I think they can expect to find humour and ultimately empathy for those who have lost loved ones through unexpected tragedy,” she said.

Peninsula Productions’ studio theatre is located next to the ice arena at Centennial Park, 14600 North Bluff Rd. For more information, call 604-536-8335.

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About the Author: Alex Browne

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