Waiting for the Parade does more than just reflect on war, past and present, and the way it has shaped our country; it interacts with the past in a way that is full of love and vitality, and it takes hold of the audience with its continuing sense of urgency.
The play, originally written by John Murrell in 1977, focuses on the lives of five women in Calgary during World War II. They are wives, daughters and mothers, all of whom have lost someone during the war effort. They pull together at various times to assist the war effort, forming a bond between them, while the whole time they never truly understand the pain of one another. In his program notes, director Will Brooks says the play “immediately becomes timeless — it speaks directly to that thing in all of us that makes us alive and human.” Parade is a very human play, focusing in on the doubts and weaknesses we hold, and the mysterious strength that leads us to carry on in spite of them.
The play moves forward on a very consistent note, with each woman offering a powerhouse performance. U of S Acting alumnus Heather Morrison plays Catherine, a feisty and strong-willed woman whose husband has left for battle and who finds herself forgetting him the longer he’s gone. Morrison attacks the script head on, delivering her lines with tremendous sincerity, maintaining a fighting temperament, but betraying her need to forget her worries and have fun.
Caitlin Vancoughnett (another U of S alumnus) plays Marta, a German-born, Canada-raised woman whose father has been arrested for Nazi sympathising. She steels herself against increased ostracism while staunchly refusing to forsake her heritage. Marta is weighted and bitter against society early on, but soon displays her wounded side. She is a complex character propelled by defiance coupled with an almost child-like desire for acceptance, and she manages an impressively understated German accent.
Anita Smith plays Eve, an exuberant high school teacher married to a much older man who infuriates her with his love of all things war-time. She exhibits the bloom of youth, with stampeding energy and a strong sense of purpose. She is naïve, but strangely wise in her assessment of war’s effect on people. Smith is reminiscent of Alison Brie, with her sharp dialogue delivery, light-weighted stage presence, prevailing enthusiasm and unrelenting drive.
Balancing out the younger cast is Carol Wylie as Margaret, a widow with two sons at war and another evolving into an anti-war advocate. She is stern but spunky; her disapproval of the whimsy and excess of the younger women eventually gives way to her deep-seated desire to engage in it, and she plays convincingly as both a mothering figure and one of the girls. But she is a tragic figure, deteriorating in her loneliness, which Wylie carries with dignity, but very reserved sentimentality.
The other women frequently engage in their volunteer duties under the supervision of Janet, played by Deborah Buck. She is strict, regimented, and unsympathising, earning disdain from other characters and the audience. But she, too, has her own story, and gradually her insecurities begin to flutter out onstage, showing her equally as lost and tragic as the others. Buck’s experience as a music director and vocal coach are evident; she approaches her dialogue in a unique way, which infuses the words with a personality that would not occur to most people. She can turn a mundane sentence into an uproarious joke with the manipulation of a single syllable.
The technical aspects unfortunately do not quite match the performance. The limited space of the theatre forces compromise. A piano dominates one corner of the stage, while the rest is fluid, but this results in the stage perimeter cluttered with unused props, which can be distracting. The restricted lighting plot saw some characters stepping in and out of darkness without reason, and in some occasions the angle of the light resulted in an unfortunate smear of shadow across an actor’s face.
Parade is bouncy and alive, moving quickly through vignettes of the various women’s lives, both separate and together. It takes place from roughly 1941 to the end of the war (though the specific timeline is difficult to follow), showing the growing of dread and breakdown of resilience as the war stretches on. It begins and ends with a dance number, the first suggesting the need to keep spirits up in a dark time, and the second suggesting a final celebration at the end of it all.
The play ends in ambivalence, elated at the end of the war, but with an underlying feeling of terror about the changes to come. Despite its tragic elements, Waiting for the Parade is an optimistic play, displaying the strength of human courage and the acceptance that we can never be perfect.
[box type=”info”]Waiting for the Parade is presented by the Lili Marlene Cooperative, and is performing on the Persephone backstage until Nov. 27.[/box]