Once Upon a Rocking Chair

StoneCircle will have the house rocking’ (2008)

Monday, February 25, 2008

By Mike Ruta, DurhamRegion.com 

AJAX — Jessica Outram’s first full-length play is a family affair in more ways than one. Not only are the six female characters in ‘Once Upon a Rocking Chair’ related, they are drawn from real people the Whitby playwright turns into character archetypes.The play is set at a cottage in the small Ontario town of Britt, located about one hour south of Parry Sound. Three sisters and their daughters are spending a weekend at the cottage preparing a birthday bash for Aunt Flo.

“The idea for this play is actually inspired by a family tradition we have,” Outram says. “Mothers, aunts, cousins go up to the cottage for a girls’ weekend. I remember sitting there (on one of those weekends) thinking, ‘ we have a lot of these strong, wonderful women, archetypes of different types of women.”

The play purports to be about the women at the cottage having a good time while planning the birthday party. But beneath this surface layer it deals with the different relationships among the women and among the younger cousins and their mothers. Of the latter, Outram notes a lot of her friends, people in their 30s, have kind of an expectant, ‘I’m here, ready to live out my happily ever after’ quality, but reality is getting in the way. On the other hand, the older generation is wiser and had life a lot more mapped out for them in their younger years.

The archetypical characters are more complex than they first appear, revealing layers of their personalities and even emotions.

Outram has lived in Pickering and Oshawa and taught drama at Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Ajax. She currently teaches English at Whitby’s All Saints Catholic Secondary School. She has directed a variety of works and written shorter, dramatic pieces.

“It’s amazing to see the power of the words coming to life around me and to hear the interpretation of the characters,” she says.

One of those characters is Chelsea, played by Pickering’s Alyssa Mariano. She describes Chelsea as “a married woman with one child who is very career-oriented.” Like most of the women on stage, there’s more to her than meets the eye.

Mariano says her biggest challenge in playing the character is that Chelsea is the opposite of her in that Mariano in real life is single and has no children. As well, she says it would have been easy to play Chelsea as a stereotype instead of an actual person. Outram helped her and the other characters avoid that pitfall.

“Jessica is very specific and detail-oriented in terms of where she wants to take it…, she really wants us to show layers throughout,” Mariano says.

She took a joint university-college drama program but drifted from theatre after graduating until she realized, ‘acting is where I’m trained; it’s what I love’.” She has limited experience in local theatre but, in addition to the StoneCircle production, is gearing up to perform in her first Herongate Barn Theatre work, ‘Bermuda Avenue Triangle’, from May 16 to June 28.

“A, the live audience,” she says of why she loves performing. “You can’t get that in TV and film. The feedback you have there, and in acting the way you can transform yourself and tell a story from beginning to end.”

Outram will likely have a few butterflies when the people who inspired the characters in the play are in the audience at the end of the play’s run on March 8.

“The six women who inspired the play will all be there closing night,” Outram says, noting that by coincidence that happens to be International Women’s Day.

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