Director brings Coward’s Waiting in the Wings to the stage

The retirement home for retired actresses opens at Powerhouse Theatre in Vernon Feb. 24.

It’s hard not to trip over a Coward in British theatre. Make that in a theatre anywhere.

The Coward referenced to here is one of Britain’s most prolific playwrights after that Bard from Stratford-upon-Avon.

During his lifetime from 1899 to 1973, Noël Coward wrote more than 50 plays and composed just as many songs. He was also a novelist, actor, director and singer known for his quick wit, versatility and poise.

Recently transplanted Briton Jennifer Goodsell is a Coward fan. So much so, she is directing one of the playwright’s well known “dramadies.”

Waiting in the Wings opens at Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre Wednesday and is the second play of the theatre’s 2015-16 season.

“The songs, musicals and plays he wrote had such an impact. To be so artistic and so prolific is amazing when it really would have been easier to just curl up in bed,” said Goodsell.

Also an actor, Goodsell spent 25 years involved in the dramatic arts in her native U.K.

“We moved around a lot and most of the towns we lived in had tons of theatre,” she said.

She and her husband, *Barry Goodsell, moved  to Vernon five years ago but waited a while before they became involved with the local theatre scene.

“We moved here out of pure dumb luck when we decided upon Canada. It was the people who drew us here,” said Jennifer. “The first year we moved here, our lives were in an uproar. We didn’t finish unpacking until we were here a whole year. In 2012, we wanted to get involved in the community so we became members at Powerhouse.”

Although Waiting in the Wings is the first production Goodsell has directed at Powerhouse, she has volunteered in various backstage roles and in 2013 appeared on stage in the thriller Deathtrap.

“We have been very impressed with how much time people give. The theatre really does thrive on volunteers,” she said.

Waiting in the Wings is the 50th and second last play Coward ever wrote. It was published in 1960, 20 years after his wartime hit Blithe Spirit (which staged at Powerhouse in 1978) and more than 30 years after he wrote the comedies Private Lives and Hay Fever (the latter staged at Powerhouse in 2004).

“I love this play so much and have seen it in both amateur and professional theatre,” said Goodsell, adding she last acted in the play 22 years ago.

“When I was writing my notes for the program and wondering what’s the message of the play, I thought it was about making the best of a bad situation. It’s about finding the silver lining. It was the message then and is a strong one now, seeing the positive.”

Similar to the 2012 film Quartet, which was set in a retirement home for musicians, Waiting in the Wings takes place in a retirement home called the Wings. However, this abode is for retired actresses who are now down on their luck and the home is funded by actors who are still working.

Originally set in Bourne End in the Thames Valley, this version is set in Saratoga Springs, New York.

“I had researched it and found out it had a theatre and Manhattan is not that far away. There are probably retirement homes like this in the entertainment world for retired Broadway actors,” said Goodsell.

Told in three acts and seven scenes, the play takes place in 1960 and follows seven residents, each with her own unique personality trait.

There’s a Pollyanna type, who is acerbic and dry, then another who hates being at the home, an Irish firebrand and one with dementia. Then there’s the new resident and the nervous over-eater, said Goodsell.

“There’s the conflicts, those who get along and those who don’t,” she added. “All were born in the previous century and are wearing the clothes they had in the ‘30s and ‘40s during the Second World War. It was a huge undertaking for our costume department.”

Four gentlemen also enter the foray.

One is the committee liaison, the secretary, between the residents and the people who run the home.

“He’s popular with the ladies. He’s like the son they never had,” said Goodsell. “There’s also the doctor and the suitor of one of the residents – we never see him – who visits every Sunday, and a long, lost son.”

With a large cast of 14 playing 15 predominantly female characters, Goodsell says she has been lucky to find such a pool of talent at Powerhouse.

“We had a choice at the auditions and found a strong and committed cast. Powerhouse has lots of ladies in that catchment and it’s giving them an opportunity to come back to the stage. Some haven’t been back to the theatre in seven years… We have some newcomers as well,” she said. “When we started some people didn’t know each other. Now there’s a strong cohesion and we have become a family… When you are at the helm of it all, you want to make sure everyone is moving in the same direction to make that goal. It’s been great to see the camaraderie building.”

Although not wanting to leave anyone out, Goodsell does mention Cara Nunn, who is not only the set designer and decorator, but is also acting in the play. Goodsell’s husband, Barry, is also helping.

“He is my second pair of eyes,” said Jennifer. “(Theatre) is something we have always done together.”

And like the actors themselves, those in the seats who have either yearned to be or have been on the stage will get something out of the play.

“Coward uses wonderful references in the play and lots of inside jokes that people who know about the theatre will be able to pick up on,” said Goodsell. “The nice thing about this play is it has its comic moments and pathos. It’s very real and conversational.”

Waiting in the Wings opens at the Powerhouse Theatre Wednesday, Feb. 24 and continues to March 5, with evening shows Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and matinées Feb. 28 and March 5 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.

• The Morning Star apologizes for the original story, which gave the wrong first name to Barry Goodsell •

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