A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


A Serious Dean Paul Gibson Makes Jessie Richardson Smile
Friday, March 06, 2009

In the fall of 2008 I had the good fortune to photograph two very good Vancouver theatre directors who happen to be friends. I photographed Bill Millerd, Artistic Managing Director of the Arts Club Theatre Company with his counterpart of Bard on the Beach, Christopher Gaze. I told them both of my excitement of also having to photograph another of my favourite directors, Kim Collier of the Electric Theatre Company. I had seen her direction, an Electric Theatre Company production of Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit. My wife Rosemary is rarely pleased by anything and she thought No Exit was terrific. At that point Millerd told me that his company had commissioned Collier and her company to work on a project for him. Not to be left without saying anything, Gaze told me, “And we also have another talented young female director, besides Collier in our Titus Andronicus. Meg roe is doing The Tempest for us. She is extraordinary.” With Gaze’s diction and voice I was already awed.

But not as awed as I was last night when Rosemary and I went to see the Joan Macleod play Toronto, Mississippi, a Playhouse Theatre Company production directed by Dean Paul Gibson, another director and actor who has paid his dues in full for both Bard On the Beach and the Arts Club Theatre Company. I have seen this funny actor direct dead serious plays and funny plays but I had never seen him direct a dead serious & funny play. It is almost superfluous for me to mention that Rosemary thinks Dean Paul Gibson is fantastic and even pointed out his spiffy new attire, (so English!) that he was wearing last night at the intermission. “And he has even lost weight, “she duly informed me. It would seem to me that he probably lost 15 pounds just in the rehearsals of this terrific play and shows that he has a gentle and non intruding touch when necessary. After all he had three very good actors, Alessandro Juliani, (Bill) William MacDonald (King) and Colleen Wheeler (Maddie) at his disposal. It was the fourth, Meg Roe who delivered fully in spades.

I wonder how Gibson managed to coax (Was that indeed the case?) that performance (It could not possibly have been only that, could it?) from Meg Roe?

My first impression was (I had not read the program as I like to be surprised and like the challenge of figuring out a play on my own) that the actress on stage was autistic. Maddie (Colleen Wheeler) her mother erroneously speculates that it was caused by oxygen deprivation at birth. It took me a while to understand that I was watching a performance that only (and only perhaps ) someone like Sissy Spacek, her look-alike, could have delivered.

It is not often that as I watch a play I forget that an actor is acting. The other three actors were very good (in particular Alessandro Juliani's believable warmth and understanding of a young girl's mental deffects) they were actors acting. Meg Roe was Jhana. I have a feeling that Dean Paul Gibson must have just given her the floor to do as she pleased.

As I watched Alessandro Juliani I thought of a friend, novelist and writer John Lekich. He, like, Meg Roe’s Jhana, may have suffered oxygen deprivation at birth. Rosemary asked me, at the end of the play, “What must it be like for a parent to have a girl like that? How would they take coming to a play like this? ” I said nothing as I was thinking of Lekich and his admiration for Alessandro’s father John whom I never had the luck to photograph. I can see the physical resemblance. When John Juliani was alive he was Vancouver's most handsome man.

I wonder if Lekich will have the curiousity and courage to go to this play should he read this?

If Meg Roe does not receive a Jessie Richardson for her performance I am sure that Jessie Richardson, right, might just stop smiling for a while. As we left I ran into actor Marco Soriano and I commented, "Meg Roe can act and direct." Soriano countered, "And sound design, too!"

Toronto, Mississippi continues until March 21 at the Playhouse.


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