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Camping adventure inspired Henry And Alice: Into the Wild writer Michele Riml

January 14, 2013

Several years ago, Michele Riml went camping in the Okanagan with a longtime friend from high school in North Vancouver and their sons. As it turned out, the first day alone provided adventure enough to last an entire trip. It began with a trailer that stubbornly refused to shift gear into reverse, and concluded with a ferocious windstorm that sent the vacationers scrambling from their tent to their car.

The initial party was joined eventually by spouses and other family members, and the story had a happy ending. For Riml, it was a happy ending inHead shot of M. Riml more ways than one. The camping trip was an enjoyable experience, the horrendous first day notwithstanding, and it also provided inspiration and material for a play called Henry and Alice: Into The Wild. Yes, THAT Henry and Alice, the husband and wife Riml had introduced in an earlier comedy, the hugely successful Sexy Laundry.

The two plays are, of course, related to each other. They are also independent of one another. Riml does not much care for labels. You could call Into The Wild a sequel to Sexy Laundry, or you could say Sexy Laundry was a prequel to Into The Wild. The semantics are not important. What matters is that Riml has taken Henry and Alice “to the other end of the world,” as she puts it, scooping them up from a hotel and setting them down in the woods.

However, while hotel and woods are completely different physical settings, they share a good deal in common in terms of the emotional landscape. Both are unfamiliar territories to Henry and Alice. Both present challenges to their ability to cope and to solve problems. Both are arenas where conflict arises and communication is the only hope they have of regaining control of lives that are falling apart.

Most of all, what Into The Wild has in common with Sexy Laundry is that Riml is addressing issues of universal concern, and doing it with humour. What helps to set the plays apart (aside from the shift in location) is that she has introduced a third character, a free spirit named Diana, who is Alice’s sister and with whom Henry has never seen eye to eye.

To Riml, writing humour is not about the punchlines. “It’s about what makes people tick,” she says. “It isn’t that you have to be funny. It’s that you have to be truthful.”

Riml has established her credentials as a humourist. She has also earned the confidence of her audiences as a playwright who “observes and absorbs” and has successfully dealt with what she herself refers to as “a credibility gap.” When she wrote Sexy Laundry, Riml was in her thirties. How could she possibly know what Henry and Alice were going through in their fifties? Simple. “I’m married,” she says with a laugh. “I can project.”

Riml, who is married to film actor and screen writer Michael St. John Smith, has been a full-fledged playwright since her mid-twenties. The seeds were sown about a decade earlier. She had been keeping a journal since the age of 10, and when she was 17 she wrote a play about the death of her father. A high school drama teacher encouraged her to enter the play in a festival, and it took first prize in the competition. For Riml, seeing her words given life by a director and actors was a “transforming” experience. “It turned me on to theatre,” she says.

While she is best known for Sexy Laundry and Into The Wild, Riml is also a highly acclaimed writer of plays for young people, with subject matter that ranges from eating disorders to bullying. These plays include a chilling piece called Rage, which involves a high school student, a guidance counselor, and a gun.

Like Sexy Laundry (Main Stage), Rage (Sandbox Series) has been presented at the Globe in seasons past. The upcoming production of Into The Wild is directed by Valerie Ann Pearson, and features Daryl Shuttleworth as Henry, Jan Alexandra Smith as Alice and Natascha Girgis as Diana.

Henry And Alice: Into The Wild runs from January 23 – February 10, 2013. Visit the Globe Theatre website for more details, cast information, and to purchase tickets.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

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