Stewart Lemoine's 1997 play returns to an Edmonton stage for the first time in over 10 years
By Cory Schachtel | February 7, 2024
As Edmontonians, we’re lucky to have yearly access to North America’s largest and longest-running Fringe Theatre Festival. But for some plays, the close of each summer’s festival is when their lives begin.
Stewart Lemoine wrote Pith for Edmonton’s 1997 Fringe Fest (with additional runs in 1999, 2004 and 2012), after being inspired by an all-time great play and the parameters of the festival itself. “At the Fringe, it’s in your interests to keep your storytelling simple, because you only have 15 minutes to set up, so you can’t rely on beautifully painted backdrops and a full suite of furniture,” he says.
“And I’ve always been an admirer of the writer Thornton Wilder, who wrote the play Our Town, which was one of the first big examples of very stripped-down theatre. There was a famous scene in it where two young people who live next door to each other are basically on their balconies, but they just stand on ladders across from each other. People sort of remember that as a moment when theatre changed forever.”
Pith is ladder-less, but has four chairs, a carpet and little else to represent Virginia Tilford’s living room. That’s where Jack Vail, a “travelling imagination warrior,” uses the chairs to take Tilford and her housekeeper (Nancy Kimble) on a globetrotting jungle adventure — without leaving her living room — to look for her late husband.
“People say to me it reminds them of when they were a child and would put blankets over some chairs and build a fort, or a car or a train or something like that. And we liked the idea of a reason for adults to do that — in this case, it’s helping a woman get past the loss of her husband, and they basically go make believe looking for him.”
Using “the power of imagination” is such a sweet sentiment it’s almost cliché, but Lemoine says that’s “pretty much all we do” — telling a story to illustrate something larger about the world with whatever means are at a playwright’s disposal.
“Basically, this is a story about a person who is trapped in a sort of linear way of thinking, and somebody helps her imagine her way out of it. At one point he says, ‘Wouldn’t you like to just go in search of your husband?’ She says, ‘I can’t imagine how I would do that’ and he replies, ‘I think imagining would be the easiest part.'”