Sometimes books make perfect onstage productions.
Sage Theatre artistic director Kelly Reay says it wasn’t the literary star power of Miriam Toews that drew him to present a theatrical adaptation of her novel Summer of My Amazing Luck. “First and foremost, I really loved this play, and it was one I knew we had to do at Sage,” says Reay, who also directs the production.
Reay says the personal relationships and the social issues the book explores are two of the reasons Summer of My Amazing Luck excited him. Edmonton-based playwright Chris Craddock, who is responsible for such gems as Bash’d: A Gay Rap Opera, adapted the novel for stage.
“It was really nice to find a good Canadian story that had a real Canadian focus, and that it was given to us by some really established and celebrated Canadian writers — that was icing on the cake.”
Summer of My Amazing Luck tells the story of naive Lucy (Caley Suliak), an 18-year-old single mother who lives in a subsidized housing project in Winnipeg and is inexperienced in the ways of the world.
Lucy recently lost her mother in an accident. In the process of grieving, she makes some unwise decisions, including getting pregnant without ever knowing who the father is. This leads to a rift in her relationship with her father, forcing her to move out. In the housing project, she befriends Lish (Myla Southward), another single mom with five kids, all under the age of five.
“It’s a slice of Lucy’s life and the obstacles she faces daily, living in subsidized housing,” says Reay. One of those obstacles is surviving on just over $9,000 a year, courtesy of social assistance.
The action ramps up when the two women — with all six kids in tow — decide to go on a road trip to Colorado to find Lish’s long-lost lover, portrayed by Graham Percy. Reay says much of the play’s humour comes from the situation these women put themselves in: two single mothers on a long road trip in a beat-up van full of kids.
“The situation writes itself.”
Lucy and Lish meet plenty of characters along the way, which provides another source of humour in the production.
With the relatively serious premise at the story’s core, however, it’s somewhat surprising the show is presented in such a highly theatrical, often comic manner.
“You wouldn’t think that a story like this could be told in such an interesting way, milking the comedy in some instances,” Reay says.
While Suliak portrays Lucy throughout the show, Percy and Southward play multiple characters, sometimes even switching into the characters of young children.
Needless to say, a story that moves through dozens of locations requires creativity when it comes to creating a sense of place onstage. Reay says this production lent itself to a lot of input from the cast, and they addressed the challenge by using found objects, such as a table, chairs and a bunch of kid’s toys. “It becomes highly imaginative, using children’s toys as realistic props and creating scenery out of a table,” he says.
“We wanted to create this world organically…. It felt a lot of times like working backwards than how we normally work, where we had to start on the outside and work in, whereas most plays we start on the inside and work out.”
One thing that is absent from the stage adaptation of Summer of My Amazing Luck is an exploration of Mennonite culture and community, something which Toews is known for. In addition, Reay says the differences between the novel and stage come from the necessity of paring down a 300-page book to a two-hour stage play.
Adding a sense of whimsy to the production is a live musician onstage — Chris Gamble plays original compositions on a ukulele. Reay says he likes to include live music in theatre as often as possible.
“It’s a very lovely play but, in some ways, it’s also a very silly play.”