By Joe Szekeres
Another foray into outdoor summer theatre this time at the Scarborough Guild Gardens and its Greek amphitheatre. I had seen pictures of this spot but never had an opportunity to visit here. Just like 4th Line Theatre, I would also like to return to these gardens for another production soon.
The Guild Festival Theatre presents Paul Ledoux’s ‘Anne’, an adaptation of L. M. Montgomery’s classic ‘Anne of Green Gables’. An interesting side note is this script premiered at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre over twenty years ago. Additionally, Mr. Ledoux’s script also transitions between the present and the past. We see the older Anne (who returns home possibly to teach) and her friends, and we also see them when they were younger.
If you have read the novels, seen the musical or watched the CBC television series with Megan Follows, you do know the barebones of the story. Obviously, all events cannot be presented in a play of two hours and thirty minutes with interval. Older siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (Michael McLeister and Elaine Lindo) await the arrival of a young boy to help Matthew around the farm. Instead, it is the young orphan Anne Shirley (Claire Boudreau) who shows up in Avonlea. Although Marilla is none the pleased, she consents to having Anne stay for the time being rather than send her back. Throughout the production we also meet some of Anne’s friends and classmates – Diana Barry (Ailya Hamid) Ruby Gillis (Izzi Nagel) and Josie Pye (Lauren Wolanski). And there is also the dashing young Gilbert Blythe (Bryan Kling) whom we assume in future stories will provide a future love interest to Anne. We also meet neighbour Rachel Lynde (Carmen Paterson), the town busybody and know it all.
Sitting in an outdoor theatre allows for the use of audience imagination with a minimalist set. There are two trellises with flowers and a train station sign AVONLEA to let us know we are in Prince Edward Island. Miranda DiFlorio’s work in assorted set and props are brought on and removed by the cast during the scene changes. Thankfully there were no cumbersome pieces to slow down the pacing. Simon Flint and Ms. DiFlorio’s selection of costumes nicely evoked the east coast fashion and style of the early twentieth century. Musical interludes and songs also help in the transitions from scene to scene which works well in pacing of the play courtesy of composer and Music Director Alex Eddington.
A production in an outdoor setting will have to capture and hook an audience’s attention span completely. It was a small audience the night I attended. The company came out to sing at the opening and then asked for audience participation to get the story going. I’m not really a fan of being part of the production since I’m here to watch. It’s the actors’ responsibility to get the production going. In any case, it could have been nerves as the response from the audience was quiet and that seemed to throw the actors a bit at the top of the show for a few minutes. Fortunately, they did find their stride.
Directors Helen Juvonen and Tyler J. Seguin had the tremendous responsibility to make sure we must still care about this Canadian icon in our culture scene. In their Directors’ Note, they state, “We need a ray of light and Anne reminds us of the transformative power of love, friendship and community.”
And this production does that for the most part. There are moments where it stalls slightly, and the actors must work hard at regaining the momentum. As performances continue, I’m positive this temporary lapse will pick up tremendously.
As the young heroine, Anne, Claire Boudreau’s smile says it all. Ms. Boudreau has quite a task in her performance. She must show the young, spirited, fancy-free, imaginative Anne who gets into trouble periodically while also showing a mature adult Anne who waits for the decision of where she will teach. Ms. Boudreau responds to this task successfully. I found her believable in those moments where she shows her youthful stubborn nature especially in her arguments either with Marilla or the incessant teasing by Gilbert Blythe. We then see her adult response in how she handles what happens regarding her teaching position.
As potential love interest Gilbert, Bryan Kling is a clean cut, dashing, boyishly charming young man who shows us there might be more than just potential teasing and flirting with Anne by the end of the play. Mr. Kling also transitions smoothly between youth and adult successfully in the same manner as Ms. Boudreau.
As Anne’s friends, Ailya Hamid, Izzi Nagel and Lauren Wolanski are wonderfully giddy and girlish in these three important supporting roles. These young ladies are the ones who help Anne transform to the mature young adult she is to become later. Vocally, these young ladies sound terrific when they are singing during the various scene changes.
The adult figures in the play are also very important in Anne’s growth. As busybody, know it all and stern Rachel Lynde, Carmen Paterson assumes the task with force and gusto. She certainly does show who is boss when she has her initial argument with Anne and her appearance. Near the end of the play, we do begin to see a softer side that Ms. Paterson compassionately shows regarding Anne’s first real dress.
As the soft spoken, gentlemanly Matthew Cuthbert, Michael McLeister has a Gordon Pinsent quality about him in his initial introduction. To my ear, he has captured quite nicely the east coast accent. There is a nice personal chemistry throughout between Mr. McLeister and Ms. Boudreau especially in the moment when he tells Anne she is not grounded after Marilla leaves.
As regal matriarch of the house, Elaine Lindo has another monumental task in her performance. Marilla is the one who must sometimes make the tough decisions of daily life and maintain her feminine dignity while her brother Matthew will go along with whatever his sister says. Ms. Lindo again is up for the task as she does appear regal on stage while maintaining her feminine composure; however, there are moments where her continual hand wringing and clenching became a tad bothersome for me. Such action would show potential weakness. There is nothing wrong with this action if it is used sparingly and in the right context. Ms. Lindo will have to be aware of this movement and try to control it more.
Performances of ‘Anne’ continue to August 10 at 201 Guildwood Parkway in the Scarborough Guild Gardens at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available before each performance. You also visit their website for further information.