Dinner theatre to chew on

James Novel is taking a sabbatical to write the great Canadian novel.

From left Central Alberta Theatre actors Jeffery Challoner

James Novel is taking a sabbatical to write the great Canadian novel.

But working from home gives James more face-time with the eccentric bunch he lives with: his scatter-brained wife Mary, who frequently searches up the wrong alleys for self-fulfillment; his confused war-vet father, Geoffrey, who talks to appliances; and his mixed-up daughter Rebecca, who can’t make a career choice to save her life.

The wacky cast might seem familiar on a superficial level, but anyone who thinks Central Alberta Theatre’s season-opening play, Novel House, which opens Friday, Oct. 2, at the Black Knight Inn dinner theatre, is another run-of-the mill farce, would be wrong.

Director Judy Moody said she fell in love with this dram-edy, by London, Ont., playwright Jayson McDonald, exactly because it’s more grounded in reality than the usual dinner theatre fare. “It’s so beautifully written and so true to life.”

The script — sent to Moody by her brother, after a community theatre group in his native Woodstock, Ont., staged it with great success — doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator, or “hit you over the head” with broad jokes and cloying messages, she said.

“I think our audiences will appreciate it.”

Moody said theatre patrons have stated on questionnaires that they want “a little more meat” in their entertainment. If by “meat” they mean more emotional and bittersweet moments, then Novel House should provide them with a whole steak sandwich.

Without giving plot details away, various characters experience loneliness, death, disappointment and separation, as well as reconciliation, wedding celebration, and the joy of young love and coming birth. “It’s an emotional roller-coaster ride,” said Moody, “This play is so rich and full of all the things in life.”

The multi-generational plot line covers three years in the early 1970s, and often deals with difficult issues with humour and warmth, said Moody. “The characters are all intelligent, witty people who go through triumphs and tragedies.”

The five-person cast is made up of actors with little to moderate stage experience. But Moody is thrilled with the performances they are delivering.

As James Novel, David Henderson “makes the whole process a joy,” said Moody, while Jaelene Stearnes, as the daughter, Rebecca Novel, “could be dropped on a Broadway stage and could hold her own.”

Moody said the set of the Novels’ heritage mansion, and the sound and lighting effects that denote the passage of time, are so important to the play they could be considered secondary characters.

She’s therefore delighted to be working with a capable and creative technical crew.

As the play’s burgeoning novelist, James, says at one point: “‘Life is like a book. It begins with a birth and ends with a death, but it’s all the things in the middle that you savour.’

“All the trials and joys and sorrows . . . you want it to be a good read,” said Moody, who predicts Novel House will be a real page-turner.


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