Edwin Starr in his famed 1970 hit song declares: “War. It ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker.” In the opening scene of Waiting for the Parade, a play about the wives and lovers back home in Calgary during World War Two, a joint production of the Walkerville Centre for the Creative Arts and the Walkerville Collegiate Institute, it might not seem that way.
The curtain opens on all five main actors doing a rousing rendition of the Andrew Sisters up-tempo He’s the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B. It was first performed in 1941, at the time, the United States had yet to enter World War Two. It would a few months later, after Japan bombs Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor.
Two years earlier, in 1939, as playwright the late John Murrell writes, citizens across the country were preparing for what was to them imminent. By September of that year, the declaration was formal, Britain and France were officially at war with Germany.
Few understand what was about to happen back home. It was certainly not going to be all song and dance. From the opening musical high, Murrell’s play dumbs down the tempo, to successfully expose what life is really like for the many wives and girlfriends who find themselves living on their own, with their mates fighting battles in foreign lands, and having to deal with ever increasingly frustrating situations.
The audience sees it all with one of the most poignant scenes being Aidan Robertson, playing the role of a soldier overseas, reading his letter home. It is here Director Walter Cassidy changed the script a bit. In the original play, Robertson’s character is heard, not seen. Cassidy concluded, and rightly so, showing the soldier and his wife Catherine, played impressively by Tatum Roy, would give the play more impact. The letter is part humourous, particularly a reference to a boastful soldier, and sad, particularly the fighter’s loneliness. Loneliness is a current flowing throughout the play.
Adrienne Thomas, in her wonderful portrayal of Janet, is in charge of much of the volunteer work the other four carry out for the war effort. She comes under criticism because her husband, who works for the then government broadcaster, has not enlisted. If nothing else, it shows the boiling pot of emotions that exist in Canada during the duration of the conflict.
Janet is given the task of convincing German immigrant Marta to turn down her record player and her constant playing of German tunes. Maria Cabaua handles her role with both distinction and anger. Nonetheless, it does not go well, with Janet eventually stomping out.
Cassidy tells Eyes on Windsor he is not a fan of centralized sound in a play. The onstage record player is the actual source of the music. He also adds that there needed to be some training in the player’s operation.
It has been almost eighty years since war was declared. Murrell kept his script true to form, which means some of the words in the script, which are no longer in vogue, needed to be translated. The program provides a list of meanings for novel words or locations in Alberta, the play is set in Calgary, in the story’s 24 scenes.
Each scene depicts the evident depression as the weeks of war turn into months and the months into years. Canadians are dragged down by simple things like food shortages at grocery stores or the knock on a door from a telegram delivery person. About the only news a telegram brings is bad news.
Murrell also opens the door on other aspects of life in Canada. The stalwart Phoebe Findlay’s character, Margaret, has two sons. One is overseas while the other joins a Communist Party protest and is arrested and incarcerated at the Fort Saskatchewan prison. Near Edmonton, it is one of the toughest in the province. Her son does not do well.
Despite shortages, including nylons, the women manage. Nylons at the time had a fashionable black seam. To compensate, Catherine and Eve, played by the delightful Lauren Brownlie, use eye liner pencils to replicate the seams on their bare legs.
Additional music, either played by cast member and pianist Adrienne Thomas, or through various recordings, include songs popular at the time, most with catchy melodies.
The play is one of a series selected by Cassidy, and WCCA’s program director Jeff Marontate, to provide students with considerable content diversity. This ranges from the whimsical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to next season’s Noel Coward’s Blythe Spirit and the Adams Family.
Waiting for the Parade opens a window on a time in Canada’s history which is slowly leaving the country’s consciousness and for this, and superb acting, it is one local theatre goers should not miss.
Opening night is Friday, November 15 at 7pm at the Walkerville Collegiate Institute’s Walkerville Auditorium. Follow-on performances are slated for November 16, 21, 22, 23 at 7pm and with a Sunday, November 17 at 2pm. Tickets are available at the door, $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors (cash only).
Article by Robert Tuomi
For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.