Popular Off the Page dramatic readings will return to Gibsons this month, spotlighting a new play with a unique connection to the series founder.
The play Hurricane Mona, by Vancouver-based playwright Pippa Mackie, will be performed by readers this month at the Heritage Playhouse. The script last year won the David King Prize, an award sponsored by Touchstone Theatre for new comedies by B.C. writers.
King was a nationally-renowned writer and musician who lived in Granthams Landing before his death in 2021.
After instigating the Off the Page series to celebrate emerging local playwrights, King handed its coordination to local impresarios Janet Hodgkinson and Wanda Nowicki. This spring, following six seasons, the pair announced their retirement.
A new triumvirate of producers — retired educators Peter Hill, Pamela Girone, and Anthony Paré — gathered to launch a new season of Off the Page.
“Wanda and Janet did just such a wonderful job building that thing up even through the pandemic,” said Hill. Hill’s play Any Luck? was the last produced by Hodgkinson and Nowicki. “We had great audiences in the last season, great actors, great plays, and it just seemed like it would really be a shame to let that go.”
Hill and Girone moved to the Sunshine Coast in 2016. One of the first cultural events they attended was an Off the Page reading of King’s play Life Skills.
“I said if that’s what’s going on on the Coast, then we’re in the right place, because we were just sort of blown away by that production,” said Girone. She will be among the five actors who present Mackie’s Hurricane Mona on Sept. 17.
Hurricane Mona is a dark comedy about a middle-class family forced to confront the reality of climate change when their adult daughter is placed under house arrest following a peaceful protest. Mackie drew on her experience as an environmental activist (and creator of the viral video Weathergirl goes rogue) for inspiration.
“I was heavily involved in my early 20s,” said Mackie. “Then I stopped going to all of the protests because I was feeling really frustrated with the lack of progress or understanding or the lack of people talking about climate change at that time.”
Mackie is an actor, producer and playwright who graduated from the National Theatre School of Canada. Three of the plays she co-created have toured across Canada, including Juliet: A Revenge Comedy, which earned five Jessie Richardson Award nominations.
Hurricane Mona offers a new take on climate commentary. Instead of becoming tangled in arcane debates about the existence of global warming, its characters are divided about how to react — even as catastrophic effects are felt in the family home.
“I think that’s what satire is, dealing with really dark, heavy material with an edge and a perspective of humour,” said Mackie. “I’m pretty tired of being preached to and being educated at, especially when it comes to an art form.
“I’d prefer to go to a theatre and have a cathartic experience with other people, and the way that I have the most gratifying, exciting cathartic experiences is through laughter.”
The Gibsons reading will feature actors Sophia Ballantyne, Pamela Girone, Dave Hurtubise, Justin Huston and Boyd Norman. Mackie plans to attend the performance, which takes place just two months before the world premiere of its fully-staged production at Touchstone Theatre in Vancouver.
The Off the Page reading takes place at 1 p.m. on Sept. 17 at the Heritage Playhouse in Gibsons. Admission is by donation. The show contains strong language and mentions of suicide and drug use.