Jim Garrard’s Peggy’s Song premieres at the Baby Grand on Thursday, Jan. 23 and runs until Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. I had the privilege to sit in on a dress rehearsal of the play, and I was astounded by the level of emotion brought to the stage by actors Lisa Howard and Conrad Dunn, directed by Jacob James with set and costume design by Rosemary Doyle.
As Theatre Kingston’s artistic producer, Rosemary Doyle has helped bring a level of quality to the stage that shines a light on Kingston as a hub of artistic talent, but also brings back Kingston natives to perform in their home city. Peggy’s Song is overflowing with Kingston theatrical expertise.
Peggy, played by Lisa Howard, has learned that her husband has perished in a plane crash; besides the grief of his untimely death, her husband wasn’t where he said he would be. Plus, there is a sixteen-year-old girl with her husband that Peggy doesn’t recognize. She hires a private investigator, played by Conrad Dunn, and together they piece together the mystery and mend their own broken lives into something new.
Watching as the final tune ups were being made, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the work of this small group of artists as they toiled away making the script perfect, the deliveries exact, and timing their work to the beat of each other.
Howard particularly shines in her solo expository moments. The audience learns so much about the life of Peggy and her husband. They were high school sweethearts, and Peggy truly loved him. As Howard describes with such raw emotion what it was like for her character to meet her husband and to kiss him for the first time, you feel the angst and the loss that Peggy is experiencing. At certain points, I wanted to get up and hug Peggy, because it felt like she needed someone to tell her things would eventually get better.
The death of her husband is just the second act of cruelty that life has dealt poor Peggy. Her son died in an accident six months before, and now for this poor soul, who is confounded with the grief of the loss of her son, her husband, whom she truly loved, is gone, and his death has caused her to question everything she knew.
Seeing Dunn come onstage as the private investigator, I wondered how he would portray the answer man that Peggy needed for her absolution. Dunn is perfect as the supposed purveyor of bad news. Peggy is at first hesitant about what could be found about her husband. Dunn’s knowledgeable detective assures Peggy to think of the worst thing possible, and that will most likely be the truth.
As the play carries on, we see a bond form between Peggy and the detective, and to their credit, Howard and Dunn are the perfect paring. They convey the emotions of the scenes in sync, starting with being standoffish, and then building the trust gradually throughout the play.
Peggy needs answers. She needs them as part of her closure. The audience will feel the sorrow in every word that Lisa Howard speaks because she conveys the loss with subtle nuances that make you think and hurt more than anything. The audience is not burdened by fake crying, but rather see the gift of the actor, as she shows the scar that is imprinted on Peggy — You feel for Peggy, and you want her to be happy, but secretly you worry that there is more grief that will hurt her if she keeps digging into her husband’s past.
As Peggy’s Song came to its conclusion, I was left thinking about the message of the narrative. Appearances are deceiving. Our views on life and people can be challenged, and no matter how much we think we know, even about those that are close to us, we could always be wrong.
I can’t clap enough for the brilliance of Peggy’s Song. Director Jacob James has brought his love of 80s music and laser-like precision on timing to bring this play back to the stage. Rosemary Doyle has taken the Baby Grand’s stage and provided a set which allows the actors to move, but also live uniquely in each part, helping the story grow. Transitions between scenes are seamless, and Conrad Dunn and Lisa Howard own the stage while making the audience weep at the sorrow they feel and hope for a better future. With Jesse Macmillan on light and sound design, Shelby Vanluven as stage manager, and Kae Klith as art tech, Theatre Kingston has brought another great play to Kingston using homegrown talent. The curtain rises for it’s debut performance tonight at 7:30 pm. For more details or to purchase tickets, click here.
Bill Gowsell was born and raised in Kingston. With an interest in history, food, wine, and all things Disney, Bill has been writing for the last eight years on a variety of topics. During the summers he can be found at the family cottage north of Kingston, or at the bottom of Lake Ontario… scuba diving.