Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bonus Feature: First-Person - Sarah White on The Glass Cage

(photo by Will Pemulis)
When Flukes Work
Scots-Canadians, a bevy of secrets, and a little known JB Priestley work
by Sarah White

Sarah White is a Toronto based actor and producer. Her career has spanned the worlds of film, television, voice and theatre. Her roles have included Willa Thompson in both “Booky’s Crush” and “Booky and The Secret Santa” a homicidal cult member in the CBC show “The Border” and the female lead in the short film Clive Houston We Have a Problem which won best international film at the Nevada Film Festival. She has also lent her voice to both The Fifth Estate and NBC’s Dateline. Most recently Ms White appeared as Polly Perks in the 2013 Toronto Fringe show Monstrous Regiment. The Glass Cage is her first producing venture.

I came upon The Glass Cage as a fluke, a bit of chance. I had been planning to produce and act in another J.B. Priestley play, perhaps his most well known, An Inspector Calls, but unfortunately after applying for the rights and being turned down  . . . then waiting six months, applying again and still being turned down, I gave up and began looking for other options. I spent hours at the Toronto Reference Library and on the internet,  trying to find a play that spoke to me, a play I would want to devote several months of my life to. One day, after yet another Google search, I stumbled across a J.B. Priestley play that I had never heard of before. As I read more about the play my excitement grew as I discovered that The Glass Cage was set in 1906 Toronto. It was J.B. Priestley’s last original play, and I could find no mention of it being performed in Toronto since its inaugural production in 1957. How had nobody in Canada re-mounted it? I contacted Samuel French, but they didn’t own the rights. I contacted Dramatists Play Services but they too couldn’t help me. I finally got in touch with J.B. Priestley’s estate and they were able to grant me the rights.

John Barrass, Sarah White, Jason Thompson, Anne Shepherd, Jean-Paul Bevilacqua, 
Rob Candy, Garett Oliver, Josephine Longo (photo by Will Pemulis)

I began to research the play and was fascinated by this lost piece of history. In the mid 1950s J.B. Priestley had met Barbara Chilcott and her brothers Donald and Murray Davis, active members of the Crest Theatre Company (Donald and Murray also being founding members). Priestley was so intrigued by them that he decided to write them a play. The three siblings were and are Canadian legends and a part of the strength of the play was the opportunity for audiences to see these three behaving badly on stage; drinking, smoking, swearing and flirting. The play debuted in Toronto in 1957 before moving to the London stage and then it largely disappeared. There was a revival at the suggestion of Priestley’s son Thomas Priestley in London in 2005 and then the Mint Theatre company revived it in New York in 2008. But it had yet to come home. Upon further contact with the estate we were put in touch with Thomas Priestley who was delighted to write a forward for us.

I approached director Nicole Bazuin with the script and was thrilled when she agreed to come on board. She had a clear vision and excitement for the project and we immediately connected with shared goals for the production. Nicole has experience with staging new work, and she tackled this unfamiliar script with her inventiveness and a strong sense of character, mood, and overall aesthetic. Her clever interpretation and attention to detail has resulted in an edgy, lively, and moving show. What a rare treat for a director to be able to put her own stamp on a work by such a prestigious playwright! Our stage manager Grace Smith was also vital to the production. She is currently doing her doctoral thesis on the time period in Canadian history when The Glass Cage was written and was an invaluable source of knowledge.

The play itself centres on the fictional McBane family, a wealthy second generation Scots-Canadian family with a bevy of secrets. The McBane family had four sons, two of which are alive in the play: Malcolm and David McBane are upstanding businessmen and pillars of the church. The deceased Robert McBane left behind an embittered widow, Mildred and the deceased Charles McBane left behind three children. The play opens as the Toronto McBanes await the arrival of Charles’s three children. It soon becomes clear that this is more than a simple family reunion. Charles left the family and the family business and married a part-Native woman. His three children have had to make their own way in the world and have never met their wealthy Toronto relations. Now adults, they are all meeting one another for the first time. The play is a fascinating look at an outsider’s perspective of Canada and Canadian society. It holds up a mirror to Canada as a nation. As the family tensions play out and secrets and hypocrisy are revealed there are obviously larger themes and issues at play. As Thomas Priestley wrote in his foreword, the central conceit of the play is “by their deeds you shall know them.”

Snowdrop Productions website

It has been a challenge and pleasure to bring this play back to the Canadian stage. The Glass Cage runs at the Alumnae Theatre Studio Space Oct. 10, 11 and 12 at 8pm. Tickets can be purchased here. 

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