A Politically Charged Piece of Art

Category: stage 113

Lac/Athabasca, an award-winning new play by Fredericton’s Len Falkenstein opens October 14 at Memorial Hall.

Lac/Athabasca’s Jean-Michel Cliché, Rebekah Chassé, Emily Bossé and Jake Martin. Photo by Michael Holmes-Lauder

Lac/Athabasca, an award-winning new play by Fredericton playwright and director Len Falkenstein, is set to be performed for the first time in New Brunswick as a co-production between Fredericton’s Notable Acts and Theatre Free Radical.  The current production follows critically-acclaimed runs as part of Toronto’s 2015 SummerWorks Theatre Festival and Vancouver’s Fringe Festival in 2014.

Lac/Athabasca is a politically charged piece of art, dealing with issues tied directly to Canada’s ongoing environmental and industrial concerns, inspired by both the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster that ravished the small Quebec community in 2013, and our own ongoing debates surrounding pipelines and fracking.

“It is a challenging play from an audience perspective,” said Falkenstein, “both because the structure is challenging – we pack a lot in for a 75 minute play and there are many jumps between seemingly unrelated places and characters before things become connected and clearer—and because the subject matter is pretty heavy. But the response has been incredible.  People are really drawn in by the play and also often very moved.”

Since debuting at Vancouver’s Fringe Festival, Lac/Athabasca has become recognized as one of the province’s most successful plays in recent years. Toronto’s NOW Magazine called it a “nicely crafted and ultimately moving production” and Vancouver’s Plank Magazine noted “particularly outstanding performances” by many members of the cast.

“It’s been extremely gratifying and a little bit surprising,” said Falkenstein, commenting on the play’s reception so far.  “I think that’s because the story of Lac- Mégantic is so profoundly moving, and because I’ve got a fantastic group of actors who are delivering the material. It’s by far the most successful work I’ve had as far as awards, reviews, media attention, and that’s been pretty amazing.”

To tell his story, Falkenstein assembled a cast that includes several of the region’s most promising actors, many of whom he has worked with in the past through Notable Acts, Bard in the Barracks and the University of New Brunswick’s drama program where Falkenstein works as the school’s Director of Drama.

So why has it taken so long for this made-in-New Brunswick play to reach a New Brunswick audience? Well, that has a lot to due with the cast and their availability.  As with most artists, schedules have a way of guiding themselves.  Thankfully, the production will finally be performed before a hometown audience when it takes to the Memorial Hall stage on the UNB campus, October 14-17, 2015.

“It’s just been one of those things of the stars not aligning previously as far as finding a time when the six of us were not all busy with other projects, plus have access to a suitable venue where we could perform,” said Falkenstein. “Besides, we like to think of it as we’ve used our runs in Vancouver and Toronto as warmups to polish the show for the main event where it really counts, right?”

While he is undoubtedly pleased with the play’s reception thus far, Falkenstein’s real hope is that the message behind the work leaves a lasting impression on his audience.  And with a federal election just days following the performance, the timing for this production couldn’t be better.

“I hope it stirs up some thoughts and some emotions about some issues that as a country we talk about but do not do enough about, or talk about separately when they are actually tightly connected,” he said.  “Things such as what’s really going on in the oil sands, how lax our rules and regulations about protecting the environment and the transport of dangerous goods have been. But beyond that, in a bigger-picture sort of way, as a country that’s been built on exploiting our natural resources from our very beginning, what price is paid by both our natural environment and the people who work in those industries to feed that system and economy. And who knows, if it inspires some people who haven’t thought much about these things to cast a ballot a few days later, that’d be pretty great too.”

Lac/Athabasca | Memorial Hall, UNB | October 14-17, 2015 | 7:30 p.m. | $18-$14-$10 | Full details 

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