As part of its 35th season, the Victoria Playhouse is delighted to produce award-winning aboriginal Canadian Tomson Highway’s one-woman musical The (Post) Mistress. The production will star popular Halifax-based actor Martha Irving performing under the direction of Catherine O’Brien, with musical direction and keyboards by Holly Arsenault and Ken Fornetran on saxophone.
Irving was first approached by Matthew Tiffin, past Artistic Director of Ship’s Company Theatre in Parsborro, Nova Scotia to play the title role of Marie-Louise.
“The idea terrified me! But I like to do things that terrify and challenge me,” Irving recalls.
She pushed her fears aside and discovered that she loved the role. Since then, she has performed the part of Marie-Louise, not only at Ship’s Company, but also at Neptune Theatre in Halifax and the Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, Ontario. This August she brings her Marie-Louise to the stage in Victoria.
The (Post) Mistress is set in a small multilingual town in Northern Ontario in 1968, a time before electronic communications, when the post office was still the hub of the community. Marie-Louise, the town’s post mistress, tells the stories and gossip of the town which she gleans from the residents’ mail.
Irving knew that in order to play Marie-Louise, she would need to perfect not only her French accent, but also her Cree, as some lyrics are written in that language. It was Tomson Highway himself who stepped in to coach her in the latter. Highway, whose mother tongue is Cree, uses his writing as a means of promoting the preservation and usage of the language.
“The Cree language is so beautiful,” says Irving. “It’s like poetry. And it is deeply rooted in nature and the concept of Mother Earth.”
Irving is happy to be back on the Victoria Playhouse stage once again. In 1977, she made her theatrical debut there in a production of Barefoot in the Park and last summer she starred opposite Rob MacLean in the Playhouse hit production Sexy Laundry. But she is especially pleased to be bringing Marie-Louise to Victoria.
“Marie-Louise is a wonderful character. I wasn’t done performing her,” says Irving.
(Photo of Martha Irving by Jay Kopinski for the Thousand Islands Playhouse. Logo design by Ron Walsh.)