Persephone Productions to Present THE WALNUT TREE, 2/20-3/8

Persephone Productions to Present THE WALNUT TREE, 2/20-3/8

From February 20 to March 8, 2014, Persephone Productions presents The Walnut Tree by Canadian playwright, editor, film producer and music composer, Geoffrey Ursell, adapted from the semi-autobiographical book by Martha Blum. Theatre enthusiasts from all parts of the city will have access to the production when it plays at both the centrally-located Centre Culturel Calixa-Lavallée (in Parc Lafontaine) and on the south shore at the Centre Multifonctionnel de Saint-Lambert (81 Hooper).

Persephone Productions' mandate to provide work opportunities to emerging artists is perfectly embodied in the recent evolution of the company that ran away with three METAs this past fall for last season's Oroonoko. Artistic Director, Gabrielle Soskin, who founded the company in 2000, officially passed the mantle to the capable Christopher Moore, a Persephone actor and director whom she had been mentoring for the transition. Now the student becomes the teacher as Chris directs Soskin in this play. "I have complete faith in Christopher and it's a treat for me to have nothing to think about except my acting role."

The Walnut Tree tells the story of the intense journey of Sussel, a young, privileged Jewish woman who grows up in Czernowitz, studies in Prague and Paris, endures the horrors of World War II in Eastern Europe, and ultimately escapes to the peace and promise of a new life in Saskatoon. The character of the older Sussel looks back at her life, accompanied by her alter ego, a Musician, who performs on a piano. This powerful, disturbing, and transcendent drama sets the devastating power of historical events against the personal forces of reconciliation. The Walnut Tree deals with vital social, political, and ethical issues, and finally (most importantly), with enduring love.

"Gabrielle was in her favourite book store in Toronto when she discovered this play. She brought it to me and we both agreed it was a perfect vehicle for Persephone," said Moore. Soskin confided, "I loved Sussel, and indeed her creator, Martha Blum, from the start. Sussel says, 'I can't imagine my life without music'. As a serious student of the piano myself, that resonated with me. Blum's and Sussel's journeys could have extinguished their spirits yet art sustained and guided them. It helped them to understand who they were, how they could live despite the suffering that was a part of their landscape." Moore agreed saying, "The story reflects our ability to adapt, to go forward, to embrace change and new futures. It is a lesson in hope, grace and forgiveness."

The cast of eight, many of whom play multiple roles, includes: Gabrielle Soskin as the older Sussel; Julia Borsellino, last seen in Persephone's musical, Spring Awakening; Zachary Creatchman, Spring Awakening's male lead, as Sussel's lifelong companion, Max; Karine Dion, star of Persephone's one-woman show, Lost: A Memoire is Sussel's mother; Brittany Drisdell, familiar to many as Fallon from television's Tales from the Neverending Story, is the young Sussel; Karine Kerr, star of the independent Pinup Dolls on Ice, currently making the N.A. film festival circuit; Eastern Townshipper Michael Nangreaves debuts with Persephone as Sussel's German lover and others; and BrenDan Walker, whose Captain Cat in Under Milk Wood at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival was his first professional appearance. Music, a key character in the play, is provided by Uzbekistani pianist, Natalia Davydova, who also has a speaking role as Sussel's muse. Alex Goldrich, also recently seen in Spring Awakening and who also directed RAW Productions' Closer, assists Moore who not only directs but also plays Sussel's father and designed the set. Busy newcomer Elyse Malo, whose sets graced the Centaur Theatre stage for Beautiful City Theatre's The Full Monty, creates costumes for Persephone for the first time; Isabel Faia, on her third Persephone production after stage managing Hamlet and Oroonoko last season, provides the lighting design; and Elyse Quesnel, who most recently contributed to Scapegoat Carnivale's Othello with Segal Centre's Top Girls and Black Theatre Workshop's The Meeting coming up, stage manages.

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