Play worth waiting for

Characters develop intimacy and intricacy in the play’s second act

Maragaret, Catherine, Marta and Eve (left to right) are four women navigating the difficulty of finding their place during the Second World War in John Murrel’s play, Waiting for the Parade.
Maragaret, Catherine, Marta and Eve (left to right) are four women navigating the difficulty of finding their place during the Second World War in John Murrel’s play, Waiting for the Parade.

An intimate story about five women in Calgary during World War II may seem local in scope, but John Murrel’s play, Waiting for the Parade, speaks about survival and human relationships on many levels, although it’s not until the end of the play that its full depth sinks in.

In this play, the mundane becomes the drama; everyday actions are what hold despair and hope for the characters. The women go about their lives and individual situations dealing not only with their men—both absent and present—but dutifully carrying out wartime work at home while attempting to sustain an unfailing, smiling facade of support during trying times. A classic Canadian play by a Texas-born playwright, Waiting for the Parade is a good match for the community-minded Domino Theatre, as it clearly requires a close-knit cast and is very likely to strike a chord with citizens of this history-rich town. The play was written in the 1970s during Murrel’s time as a writer-in-residence in Alberta. He interviewed people, mainly women, about their experiences living through the Second World War and found he was drawn to their stories. This explains the sympathy inherent in the script as it realistically portrays the women’s day-to-day hardships and survival as the play unwinds. The first act shows us the characters’ behaviours and personalities but it’s the second act that really begins to tell their stories.

Director Steve Powell worked with the all-female cast to delicately reveal the play’s drama. The blocking varied from large to subtle gestures that were fortunately not too overdone so as to compliment Murrel’s honest words. The backdrop of brick wall emblazoned with anti-German and pro-war graffiti sets a discordant tone, but on the whole the set is simple and takes a backseat to allow the actors ownership of the stage.

In the first scene where four of the women, involved in a volunteer wartime effort group, gather together, meticulously rolling bandages, the boredom of home and anxiety over family soldiers is clear but the chemistry between the characters isn’t yet felt. It takes a few more scenes for the characters to bond and tensions to build so the women’s relationships develop and feel natural. The actors seem to ease into their roles, especially as an ensemble, as the play wears on, coming together just in time for the second act where the script depicts the characters’ intricacies more intensely.

Emily Sheridan’s portrayal of Eve, a young schoolteacher married to a man too old for military service, is endearing. At first the character appears sweet to an annoying fault. However, the disintegration of her naïveté and a brave dedication to pacifism in the face of her gung-ho, war-loving husband develops her into a strong character. Sheridan carries Eve well, presenting a complex mixture of romanticism and spite. A moment that best captures the story’s spirit of endurance is when the character Catherine, played by Kate Innes, who is easeful and charming in her acting, confides matter-of-factly in Marta, German-born and outcast by the community because of her heritage. Catherine says she might be thinking like a whore but Marta doesn’t judge her, and instead astutely describes Catherine’s choices—to entertain herself with other men when her husband is away—as a survival tactic.

Amie Bello gives a memorable performance as Marta, who is shunned and harassed but maintains a defiant spirit. Though Bello’s German accent waivers from time to time, she presents a sassy and likeable foil to the overbearing Janet, leader of the women’s war effort at home. Deftly played by Liz Tremblay, Janet obsessively throws herself into her work, dragging the other women along, to cope with her marital problems.

Margaret, played by Katie Flower-Smith, isn’t a particularly striking character until the audience witnesses her increasing inability to unwind and relate to her friends. Though she keeps up appearances, Margaret secretly and painfully experiences an anxious and deep dive into distress over her sons, whom she believes she has lost to the military and jail forever. Margaret’s story about silent suffering makes its impact toward the end of the play. Music is an important aspect of the play. The four women often gather at the piano singing paradoxically saccharine wartime songs reflecting an optimism most of the characters can barely pretend to have. The actresses each lend beautiful but distinct voices that create solemn harmonies despite the characters’ conflicts.

Meanwhile, Marta carries on playing German lieders despite the community’s disapproval and music becomes a source of comfort and resistance for her. Scene changes include interludes where images and clips of the era are projected onto a screen while songs of the time play overtop. It was an appropriate touch that resonated with audience members, who were familiar with the songs as they sang along, dissolving the divide between the production and the viewers. Powell said he feels the play is very much relevant in the face of today’s international conflicts and the forgotten stories of families left behind and devastated by them. Waiting for the Parade may not be an instantly gripping play but it’s a worthy story that the audience needs to spend time with in order to appreciate.

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