St. Albert Dinner Theatre
Nov. 11 to 13; 18 to 20; 25 to 27
Kinsmen Banquet Hall, 47 Riel Drive
Tickets: $55 to $60. Call 780-222-0102 or online at www.stalberttheatre.com
St. Albert Dinner Theatre celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. For the season’s opener, Stuart L. McGowan, a leading Fort Saskatchewan theatre figure, makes his St. Albert directorial debut in Canadian playwright Norm Foster’s Self-Help.
Introducing new blood and fresh ideas is a positive sign of growth, and the entire troupe is excited about his dynamic style. With more than 30 years of experience as an actor, director and writer, McGowan has reignited the company after COVID and developed a template casting the strongest actors for a role.
Raised in Ontario, the dedicated thespian cut his teeth on comedies and murder mysteries at South Shore Little Theatre. Upon his departure, the company presented him with the Stephen Leacock Plaque after 15 years of service.
After moving to Alberta in 2001, McGowan was employed in safety training at Bartle and Gibson, western Canada’s leading independent distributor of plumbing, heating, and electrical products.
Now retired, he is committed to supporting Fort Saskatchewan’s Sheeptown Players as an actor, director, and current president. Deploying tongue-in-cheek humour, McGowan also wrote original scripts such as Burnt Coffee — Grounds for Murder and Four on the Fairway — Links to Murder.
Self-Help is McGowan’s first crack at a Foster play and rehearsals are moving along quite decisively. Although the director encourages actors to make personal character choices, he raises the bar by aspiring to a certain precision.
“It’s different than a lot of plays I do,” said McGowan. “I’m taking it slightly over the top and I want to help the actors emphasize each message the characters bring. I like to keep it clean and crisp and allow the characters to come through the actors. I call myself a taskmaster. I go over the minutiae, but it adds to each character.”
Self-Help was first produced in February 2011 under the dinner theatre’s original moniker, St. Albert Theatre Arts Guild of Entertainers (STAGE). It was STAGE’s debut production and was applauded by theatre-goers and reviewers.
Foster is one of Canada’s most produced playwrights, with a knack for writing populist characters immersed in improbable, but humorous, situations that change lives.
“I think Norm Foster takes the view that self-help people are hucksters. Everyone knows how to be a better person. But everyone needs to be validated. Norm’s take is ‘you are a good person. You don’t need someone to tell you,’” McGowan said.
In the comedy, Cindy and Hal Savage are a couple of struggling actors trying to make ends meet. Desperate to earn money, they ditch theatre training and devise a self-help technique that makes a fortune. Seven years later, the duo is rich but unhappy, and their carefully constructed façade falls apart when the gardener is discovered dead in the couple’s luxurious home.
Leading the cast of six as Hal is Rob Beeston, one of the company's long-time staples.
“Rob’s physicality and tone of voice is the character. He comes across as the consummate actor. This is what he does. This is who he is. He uses his whole body. You don’t miss anything he’s doing.”
Shelby Murray tackles Cindy and holds her ground.
“I was familiar with Shelby’s work on stage. She’s brought a physicality and tone of voice without being pretentious. She has such a wonderful attitude. She can be meek and mild, loving to her husband, or she can stand up to Jeremy.”
In the opposite court, Colin Stewart plays Jeremy Cash, a “slimeball journalist” nosing around for a big scoop.
“He’s an imposing person and I wanted someone to fill the stage. He’s an investigative journalist with an ego as big as all outdoors. He's intimidating as he speaks, but he’s politely intimidating.”
Joanne Poplett is back as Ruby Delvecchio, the Self-Help couple’s agent.
“She’s a businesswoman first and I like Joanne because she’s very strong on stage. I needed someone who could hold her own and not be overshadowed by [Cindy and Hal]. She doesn’t back down. She brings a level of professionalism to Ruby. She’s cutthroat without being cutthroat.”
New to St. Albert Dinner Theatre is Priscilla Dhaussy as Bernice, the maid.
“She’s French and her accent sold me on her character. She also has a wonderful innocence that works for the part.”
And lastly, Tim Kubasek soldiers on as Detective Duncan Snow, a man who strikes out in the romance department.
“He can do a slow burn. Nothing riles him. He’s also known as the Nervous Comic. He’s able to give a pregnant pause so the audience can fully absorb what he’s said. It’s like Columbo appearing clueless without being clueless.”