Sveva Caetani is the subject of a new play, Sveva, celebrating what would have been the Vernon artist’s 100th birthday and part of SvevaFest taking place until Oct. 29, with events throughout Vernon. Sveva is at the Powerhouse Theatre every night until Oct. 28, with matinées Oct. 22 and 28. (Heidi Thompson photo)

Sveva takes the stage

New play remembers the Caetani family as part of Vernon’s SvevaFest, which celebrates Sveva Caetani

The captivating story of Leone Caetani, his mistress Ofelia Fabiani and their daughter Sveva is brought to life in an original play commissioned by Powerhouse Theatre to kick off the inaugural SvevaFest on what would have been the Vernon artist’s 100th birthday.

For anyone who has lived in Vernon for any length of time, the story of the Caetani family is a familiar one. But it is also one that continues to fascinate, and when it is brought to life in a new play, the story is as fresh as ever.

Sveva tells the story of the Caetani family and the people who knew them.

The play, written by Janet Munsil and directed by Kevin McKendrick, features spoken text, mime, choral work, live sound effects and music.

With interweaving characters and time periods, it’s easy to get lost in the story. An ensemble cast plays a variety of parts, including the Caetanis, friends and neighbours at various ages.

To many people living in Vernon when the Caetanis arrived in 1922, the Italians were exotic and a little strange. When the story is told today, we think of Sveva spending years trapped in the house with her grieving mother after the death of Leone. But here is Ofelia, living in a foreign land, not speaking the language, knowing no one, missing home and it’s hard not to feel compassion and be moved by her immense loneliness and sadness.

The play opens with the family arriving at their new home, having escaped Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy. The clever use of props and actors clad entirely in black from head to toe, along with simple sound effects, easily convey travellers on a train as it pulls into the station in Vernon.

Bob Oldfield’s sound design combines sound effects with the use of familiar and beautiful pieces of music by Puccini, adding to the poignancy of the story.

The beautiful set and light design by Dave Brotsky provides the perfect backdrop, from twinkling stars to a boat on the canal.

With costume design by Lorraine Johnson Brotsky, it’s not an actor on stage, but rather Ofelia in her gowns by Vionnet and Chanel and dreaming of home.

Sveva follows three stories woven between time periods, beginning the year Sveva died, 1994.

The play contrasts the aristocratic Caetani family with local families and the depiction of a bygone Vernon, with visits to the A&W drive-in and music of the era will bring a smile to longtime residents.

Annie, a longtime neighbour, guides the audience on the journey, sharing her memories of this new family, who live in the huge house on Pleasant Valley Road, a house many people feared except at Halloween when the gates would be opened for trick-or-treaters.

As well, Sveva draws on Dante’s Divine Comedy, the epic poem loved by Leone that provided the inspiration for Sveva’s series of 56 paintings, Recapitulations.

On the death of her mother, Sveva connected with the community she had called home for so many years and lived her life with joy as a beloved teacher and artist.

Bringing together talented local performers ranging in age from eight to 78, Sveva is a moving piece of theatre that interweaves relationships and tells a story that never grows old.

Sveva is on at the Powerhouse Theatre from now until Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m., with matinées at 2 p.m. today and Oct. 28. Tickets are $28 for adults, $22 for students, available from TicketSeller, 250-549-7469 or

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