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Motorcycles, windstorms and tents are no obstacle for Valerie Ann Pearson

January 16, 2013

In a recent conversation, Michele Riml happened to mention, casually, that “directors across the country are cursing me for the motorcycle” in her play Henry and Alice: Into The Wild.

Riml was speaking ironically, of course. The fact of the matter is, when it comes to solving problems, directors take pride in their resourcefulness. Including a motorcycle in the script is like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

To be fair, Riml did offer a proviso to the effect that the motorcycle is optional, but she knows very well that if it’s in the script, it’s going to be onValP2 website the stage, with modifications, if necessary. Directors, bless their hearts, are stubborn that way.

In the Globe production, the motorcycle is a 15-year-old Yamaha that brings the adventurous Diana to the campsite where her sister Alice and her brother-in-law Henry are vacationing. Understand that the motorcycle will not actually be running, because even a small engine can produce large amounts of exhaust in the form of coal-black smoke, cough, cough.

Artistic director Ruth Smillie, as we all know, has zero tolerance for gentlemen’s colognes and ladies’ perfumes, for hypoallergenic reasons, and if she forbids these agreeable fragrances, it would be hypocritical to allow the more offensive stench of gasoline and burning oil, don’t you think? Not to mention, the building itself is an historical property and thus protected by law from such abuses.

Fortunately, where there’s a will, there’s a way. “We have found a quite clever way to deal with it,” says the talented and congenial Valerie Ann Pearson, who is directing this production. Apparently, thanks to the speakers overhead, the motorcycle will not actually be running but it will certainly sound like it is, and that’s what counts.

Problem solved. Smooth sailing from here on, right? Wrong. As it turns out, the motorcycle is merely the beginning. “She has given us quite a number of challenges,” Pearson says, and that might be the greatest understatement since Noah said: “It looks like rain.”

Besides the motorcycle, there is a campfire which at one point must appear to be lit. Also a tent that is blown away by the wind. And speaking of the tent, Riml has written scenes in this play that occur INSIDE the tent. Trying staging THAT at the Globe, where the sightlines dictate that audiences must be able to see into, over and through the tent!

Sorry? No, certainly not. This isn’t Smillie’s attempt to punish Pearson for some slight incurred in the past, real or imagined. In fact, the two women have been close friends for more than a decade. But I must confess, the torture angle had occurred to me, as well. Now, where was I? Right! Try staging THAT at the Globe.

Indeed, Pearson’s initial response on being offered the assignment was: “Are they insane? They’re going to do THIS in the round?”

Of course they are! And considering that Pearson, no stranger to the Globe, managed a fire escape for The Glass Menagerie and a reasonable facsimile of a rock ‘n’ roll concert for The Buddy Holly Story, she isn’t likely to be stymied by a motorcycle, a campfire, and a tent.

But wait, there’s more.

“It’s a very proppy play,” Pearson says. “There are a lot of props.”

The props include the military style MRE, short for Meals Ready To Eat, and by way of assistance, Riml offered this advice: “Beat it. Heat it. Eat it.” The rest, she leaves up to the directors. Where Pearson is concerned, there is an additional challenge, surprise, surprise. Two of the three actors in this production, Jan Alexandra Smith (Alice) and Natascha Girgis (Diana) are (you guessed it) vegetarians.

Pearson started “worrying about all of this” a year ago, when she first read the script. Six months later, the operative phrase became “potential and possibilities.” Now she is rapidly approaching the payoff, and believe me, it is going to be rewarding.

“Oh, I think so,” Pearson says with a smile. “Every small victory seems amazing when you solve something, one problem or another, no matter how large or how small. I think I get a charge out of that.”

We’ll have more from Valerie Ann Pearson on Henry and Alice: Into The Wild later this week.

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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