To play the part of an eight-year-old is a challenge for any adult actor; to maintain that character through until she is fifteen is an even greater one; to hold the audience’s attention for ninety minutes with no other person on the stage has to be monumental. How does she do that? How does she remember all those words?
I don’t know how Lily Beaudoin does it, but her performance as Gracie at the Belfry was stunning, and had the opening night audience leaping to its feet as the play closed, in enthusiastic approval.
I suppose we are always fascinated by groups of people who manage to live completely separate lives within the context of our own society. Polygamy is a foreign concept to most Canadians in British Columbia, and yet there is a thriving community, in our own province, to whom it is a normal way of life. It is this culture which playwright Joan MacLeod has studied in order to create Gracie.
Gracie arrives in Bountiful from Colorado with her family, her mother having been assigned to marry there. She does not find that odd, being a normal child whose main desire is for a bicycle to replace the one she had to leave behind. She is welcomed by another child, who gives her a doll. Gracie remains close to her brother Billy, until, as time goes on, he is ostracized by the community, where it seems there is room only for old men and the young women who become their wives.
As Gracie grows up, and as her sisters are married off by order of the powers-that-be, she begins to question her life. She has security, but does she have freedom?
The stage setting, beautifully designed by Catherine Hahn, is simple but effective, dominated by the mountains, which are backlit according to the time of day.
Gracie is a complex play which demands much of the audience; if you are looking for a linear story with a happy ending, give this one a miss. But if you feel up to the challenge of confronting life from a different point of view, grab yourself a ticket for this world première.
Gracie will be at the Belfry Theatre until February 19, and will be staged next by the Alberta Theatre Projects, co-producer of the play.