The versatile artistic producer of Theatre SKAM has written a wonderful play, which is part of this year’s SPARK Festival. Joan is the story of Joan Mans, an eccentric Victoria character who died around nine years ago. I’m sorry I came here too late to know her.
Basically Joan was a supporter of all the arts, with an opinion on everything, and a habit of getting up people’s noses. It would appear she managed to irritate everyone at one time or another. But somehow she became part of the arts scene, especially at Swan’s Pub following a variety of performances at different venues. And somehow directors, producers, performers and reviewers began to tolerate her, to accept her, and even to like her for her quirkiness. Matthew Payne found himself as her best friend, especially during her last years; she stayed in his mind until he felt compelled to write her story.
The play is cleverly constructed, with Joan first being introduced as an old lady, then as a young woman, and also as a child. The three people in these roles are exceptionally talented. Lynda Raino is the old version, a woman losing her memory. Having fallen and broken her hip, and having no family, she lives in Oak Bay Lodge, from where she escapes from time to time, usually with her friend Matthew. The younger person is skillfully played by Treena Stubel, who shows us a brisk individual, a Wren in WW II. She is/was at some time a teacher who still corrects people’s grammar when in conversation. Hannah Janz portrays the child, who engages us right from the time she steps out of old Joan’s suitcase.
Matthew plays himself. The characters interact with each other, and with the projections on the backdrop – an interesting mixture of photos, videos and words. There is also an overlay of sound and voices, intricately woven into the action. This works really well on the plain stage at the Metro Theatre.
Interspersed with all this busy-ness, are the masks, worn by the characters to indicate fish and a rat. You have to be there to appreciate that. And to top it all off we have a children’s ensemble and a choir.
The thing that Matthew Payne does really well with this play, is preserve some of Joan’s mystery. We know she has been married, but when and to whom? There are hints of a child, but was there one? Some research takes place, but at the end of the day it is probably better not to know. There are vague references to an affair with an internationally-known conductor, but we don’t find out who he is, or any other details.
The almost surreal tone, as all of these people, memories, and thoughts float about, definitely grabs the attention of the audience. Joan is a fascinating look at a woman who has become part of our local folklore. It runs at the Metro until March 26, with one matinee on that date. For tickets go to ticketrocket.co or call 250-590-6291.