Waiting for the Parade celebrates the resilience of the human spirit

Waiting for the Parade
Written by John Murrell
Presented by London Community Players
Directed by Susan Garner
Produced by Diane Haggerty
Played by Monika Maika (Eve), Jeanne Quarrie (Margaret), Phyllis Leighton (Janet), Kristin Thomas (Marta), Charlene McNabb (Catherine)
Lighting Design by Peter Pownall 
Sound Design by Ed Williams
Set Design by Joe Recchia
Hair/Make-up by  Shauna McCarthy
The Palace Theatre, 710 Dundas Street
November 9-17

Just in time for Remembrance Day, Waiting for the Parade is a nostalgic, yet unsentimental look at the lives of five women in Calgary, Alberta during the Second World War who were ‘keeping the home fires burning.’  Each woman is fighting her own personal battle, and coping with the hardships of war in her own way. 

Eve, a school teacher married to a much older man, is appalled by her husband’s prurient interest in a war he is too old to fight, and afraid for the lives of the young men who are her students.  Margaret, is a widowed mother of two boys; one of whom is off fighting overseas, and one who has been arrested for joining the Communist party. Margaret believes they are both ‘lost to her forever.’ The indefatigable, aggressively cheerful Janet has been ‘ready to make the ultimate sacrifice’ for King and Country since she met the British Monarch some time ago. Janet’s husband was excused from service and is not putting his life at risk as so many others are. In lieu of fighting the actual war, Janet has deemed herself Commanding Officer of the war effort at home. Her ‘troops’ (the other four ladies) don’t always seem to understand their place in Janet’s pecking order. Marta’s family immigrated to Canada from Germany when she was only nine years old, and she feels unfairly stigmatized and ostracized because of her heritage.  It might have been easier for her to fit in and be accepted by the other women if her father hadn’t been found with a basement full of Nazi propaganda and letters from the Third Reich…Finally, there is glamorous, wise-cracking Catherine, whose young husband is also overseas fighting. Strong, stoic, and funny, Catherine copes with her crippling loneliness by volunteering  in a canteen, bolstering the moral of young men like her husband who are about to go overseas. 

These stories of hardship and loss are served up with a side of laughter, music, and dancing. Sitting towards the back of the theater, I had no problem hearing well enough to make out lyrics – sound quality was excellent. The ladies all have lovely voices and harmonized very well on several rousing songs of the era.

Lighting was used for much more than to signal scene changes. It conveyed a sense of isolation during Marta’s monologue, and inclusion for the other ladies. A variety of emotions and a sense of imposed normalcy all were enhanced or expressed with the lighting design. Brilliant! 

Hair, make-up and costumes, along with the music and set design, bring the period to life for a new generation. I liked the varied height levels of the set design; they provide each character with a literal platform of their own.  

Performances by the multi-talented cast were solid and credible. Separated from our experience by more than half a century, these women could easily be people you know now. The cast were unfazed by some audience members at the back making VERY LOUD NOISES, not just once, but several times and for long enough durations that it appeared to me that there was no effort from the noise makers to CUT IT OUT.  When Marta said, “…I will wait!” I wasn’t sure if she was delivering dialogue or talking to the audience. C’mon people, really? Do we need to hand out theatre etiquette sheets?

Although it’s hard to believe that a girl who has been in the country since she was nine years old would still have such a thick (and almost sinister) German accent as an adult, the device works to ‘separate’ Marta from the rest of the group. Charlene McNabb’s performance as Catherine was luminescent. As a vivacious, intelligent and kind young woman, Catherine struggles with her loneliness vs. her loyalty to her beloved husband, her sense of unfair abandonment vs. her patriotic duty, and her need to keep hope alive vs. her understanding and acceptance of others’ ways of coping. Charlene moves from delivering perfect comedic timing to her sensitive portrayal of a woman in pain seamlessly. Catherine is imperfect; Charlene makes us like her anyway. She also does a mean jitterbug!

Waiting for the Parade would stand alone as good entertainment, but this week, it’s a must-see. For those of us who remember, and for those of us who mark November 11th in gratitude for the hard won freedom that those who came before us suffered and died for, Waiting…is a celebration of their sacrifice for us, and the resilience of the human spirit.

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Jamie-Lee Wilson is a mild mannered Project Manager by day and crime fighter by night (if you consider teenage children who spend their time watching reality T.V. and eating Kraft dinner and wieners a crime). She grew up in Toronto where she attended York University. Jamie moved to London in search of cheaper parking.

Photos by Ross Davidson