Shooting for the moon

Few accents are as ticklish to the Canadian ear as the Irish.

Ireland is also known for masterful storytelling from the Book of Kells, to James Joyce and his contemporaries, to modern bestsellers like Maeve Binchy and Frank McCourt, and why wouldn't we even include The Irish Rovers while we're at it?

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You'd have to include actor/playwright Marie Jones to the list. She is an Order of the British Empire recipient for her portrayals (she played Sarah Conlon in the acclaimed Irish film In the Name of the Father) and her wordsmithing (in addition to the 2001 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy, she and her nine plays won the John Hewitt Award for outstanding contribution to culture, tradition and the arts in Northern Ireland).

The most recent Jones play, Fly Me to the Moon, has whipped critics around the world into a giddy tizzy and Prince George gets to be in on the excitement. Theatre North West is making the dark comedy the production that kicks off their new mainstage season. It's a tale about an elderly man who unexpectedly passes away in his home, the two in-house caretakers who have to suddenly deal with the body, and the tidy sum of cash suddenly unattended in their presence.

It bears a slight similarity to the popular Irish story Waking Ned Devine, but there are also some significant differences. While the deceased Ned Divine involves a whole community coming to terms with a possible windfall of money, this one is confined to two people - Francis and Loretta - who have to develop their moral response in front of one another in a single room.

Of course, as is the case in all universal stories, these two caregivers represent in their way all Irish people and the room represents in its way all of Ireland. In the hands of the master playwright Jones, we all become Irish in that moment of fumbling, stuttering truth.

Theatre North West artistic director Jack Grinhaus played to a strength he had, in the selection of Fly Me to the Moon. He knew it had been done before in Canada, and he knew who directed it. He contacted Maja Ardal and convinced her to come to Prince George to take the directorial helm of this production.

"I directed a version at the Gravenhurst Opera House in Muskoka, where I live," said Ardal. She also once directed Stones In His Pocket (remember that Olivier Award? It was for that title.) and even has mutual friends, back in Ireland, of Jones.

Yes, back in Ireland. Ardal has spent significant parts of her life in different locations of the world (Iceland, Scotland, Canada) and she has close connections to Ireland.

"It wasn't good enough that this play be done with an Irish accent. It had to be the Belfast accent. That's what Maja knows," said Grinhaus.

"What excites me as a director is seeing a totally different production of the same play come together," Ardal said. "I'm an actor's director so I love to see one interpret in their own way a character I have met in another actor's hands. There is always a big difference, but through it runs the script, the story, and I know the setting for this one. I know the atmosphere in Belfast, and that has a place in the story - how the spectre of money rears its ugly head in this play and the way that fits to the place, but also to all of humanity."

That's where Fly Me to the Moon and Waking Ned Devine do have some crossover themes, she said.

"That story was about rural Ireland and about men and what they do. This play is about women and what they do - some of it is different and some of it is the same - and about women in the heart of the city," said Ardal.

"It's about how they get in over their heads, together. It's about temptation, guilt, the clash between what you feel you deserve and what it takes to get there, and I think we all have bits of that question in us. It's a story that exposes relationships - between these two women, between them and a man who is dead but very much a part of the narrative, and their relationship to place."

There is a reason Ardal is so wrapped in story concerns versus just performance concerns. She, too, is an award-winning playwright. Her latest is entitled The Hero of Hunter Street with a cast of 44 actors assembled by 4th Line Theatre Company for the world premiere this past summer at the Winslow Farm theatre facility in Peterborough. It centres on the real-life 1916 Quaker Oats factory explosion that killed 23 people, two of whom are directly eulogized in the play.

Ardal also wrote the groundbreaking play One Thing Leads to Another: Theatre for Babies, which is an examination of the way the youngest people still have their cognitive connections to the performing arts.

It was this profession that allowed her the room to say yes when Grinhaus contacted her about the opportunity to remount Fly Me to the Moon.

"As a playwright first and foremost, I feel lucky that I can pick and choose my moments to do other projects, and I can bring the writing process with me wherever I go. I build my writing schedule into my directing schedule," she said.

Ardal is also the mother of Canadian rising star actors Inga Cadranel (Lost Girl, Dark Matter, Orphan Black) and Paul Braunstein (Jesus Henry Christ, The Tuxedo, Train 48). She joked that once upon a time, they were constantly referred to as the children of Maja Ardal and now she is constantly referred to as the mother of those notable names.

Fly Me to the Moon stars Kristina Nicoll and Deborah Williams as the two caregivers caught in the ethical bight. It opens tonight and runs until Oct. 5 at Theatre North West.

Tickets are on sale now via the TNW website or at Books & Company.

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