Students mount two powerful plays during fine arts festival

Theatre @ York is mounting two plays – Les Belles-Soeurs by Michel Tremblay and The Grapes of Wrath, a dramatization by Frank Galati of John Steinbeck’s epic novel – as part of the York Festival of Fine Arts this month.

The student productions, presenting two very different takes on the lives of the working class, run in repertory from March 18 to March 30.

Left: Ryanne Chisholm plays lead in Les Belles-Soeurs

Set in an impoverished Montreal neighbourhood in the late 1960s, Les Belles-Soeurs centres on Germaine Lauzon, who has won a million Gold Star stamps and invites her sisters and neighbours to help her stick them into booklets, to be exchanged for various goods. Sisterhood is stressed to the limit in this landmark play about the fallout in an extended family of working-class women.

The Grapes of Wrath is a searing depiction of the desperate struggle for physical and moral survival of a family of dispossessed Oklahoma sharecroppers caught up in the desperate westward trek in search of work and a better life in California during the Dirty Thirties. Galati’s powerful stage adaptation of Steinbeck’s literary masterpiece won the 1990 Tony Award and Outer Critics Circle Award. This production is a Canadian premiere.

The plays are produced by Theatre @ York, the production company of York’s Theatre Department, and are directed, acted, designed and built by undergraduate and graduate students.

Miroslaw Polatynski, who is directing Les Belles-Soeurs, and Glen Gaston, who is directing The Grapes of Wrath, are both professional actors and directors who are currently pursuing graduate studies in theatre at York.

Polatynski trained as an actor in Poland and Germany. Winner of a 2003 Actor’s Prize for his work in Incorrigibles by J. Slowacki and a three-time nominee for the Gold Mask actor’s award, he played leading roles and often helped direct more than 70 productions throughout Poland, in London, England, the Czech Republic and Germany.

Right: The Grapes of Wrath set designed by Joanna Yu 

Polatynski’s directing credits include Maria Stuart, Anthony and Cleopatra, Liola, Love for Love and The Invaluable Ridiculous Ones.

Gaston has acted on stages across Canada, most recently at Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius in Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, and at Toronto’s Soulpepper in Don Carlos. In his work on stage, television, film and radio, he has performed with such Canadian luminaries as Fiona Reid, Brent Carver and Sean Cullen. Originally from Alberta, he began his career as a member of Robin Phillips’s acting company at the Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre. He co-founded The Rough Theatre, Edmonton’s political theatre touring company. Directing credits include The Marriage of Bette and Boo, The Importance of Being Earnest, As You Like It, The Wild Guys and Little Women.

Casts for Les Belles-Soeurs and The Grapes of Wrath are drawn from the fourth-year undergraduate acting program as well as the graduate acting program.

Both productions have been designed and built by undergrad students. Les Belles-Soeurs features set designs by Cristina Reale, costumes by Melissa Bergeron, lighting design by recent York graduate Wendy Liebner and original music composed by York music student Katy Dosman. The Grapes of Wrath was designed by Joanna Yu (sets), Jessica Sisson (costumes) and Glen Smith (lighting), with musical direction and composition by music student Patrick Cotter.

Above: Jessica Sisson’s sketch of costumes for The Grapes of Wrath

York’s Theatre Program has long been a springboard for some of Canada’s finest theatre artists. Alumni include screen and stage actors Rachel McAdams, Tamara Bernier, Patrick Galligan, Tara Rosling and Melody Johnson; directors Jillian Keiley, Richard Rose, Jim Millan and Soheil Parsa; playwrights Djanet Sears, Sky Gilbert, Diane Flacks and Sally Clark; and stage designers Charlotte Dean and Deeter Schurig.

Theatre @ York has been entertaining audiences for more than 30 years. Each year, the company mounts a challenging season of plays drawn from the contemporary and classical repertoire, featuring some of Canada’s most promising stage talent.

Box office information

Les Belles-Soeurs and Grapes of Wrath run in rep from March 18-31 in the Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theatre, Accolade East Building. Performances are at 7pm; matinees at 1pm.

Les Belles-Soeurs previews March 18 and 19 and opens March 20 at 7pm. Evening performances continue March 23, 28 and 29. Matinees are March 23, 24 and 28.

The Grapes of Wrath previews March 21 at 1pm and 7pm, and opens March 22 at 7pm. Evening performances continue March 24, 26, 27, 30 and 31. Matinees are March 21 and 30.

Admission is $15 for adults; $10 for students and seniors. Previews are $5 or pay what you can.

To reach the box office, call 416-736-5888.

Click here for a detailed schedule of the York Fine Arts Festival.