As actors and stagehands tiptoe behind the shadowy set of The Melville Boys, a discreet portrait on the back of a stage flat keeps watchful eye over the South Okanagan Amateur Players’ upcoming production. The portrait of a small woman with big eyes and a gentle smile hangs in tribute to the show’s set dresser, Jennifer Mapplebeck, who passed away suddenly on April 8. Cast and crew cannot help but think she would be proud of her last show on earth. The two-week production run has been dedicated to her memory.
First-time director Nathan Linders counted Mapplebeck as one of “the devoted backstage crew and talented cast I have been blessed with”, and as an invaluable mentor who dedicated close to forty years to SOAP first as an actor and singer, then as a stage manager and producer.
The Melville Boys by Canadian playwright Norm Foster provides plenty of opportunities for crew and cast to shine. Set painter Brian Mapplebeck (Jennifer’s husband of 46 years) has outdone himself with a Muskoka lake backdrop. Set designer Tom Szalay built and scrounged many cottage furnishings, right down to the woodstove and squeaky screen door, and provides some realistic lighting effects. Jennifer’s deft touch and eye for colour is evidenced in the set dressing.
Although the plot calls for laugh-out-loud comedy with sight gags and clever zingers. the characters are far more complex. Actors go through huge emotional arcs: sibling rivalry, awkward romance, latent grief and anger, and some dramatic, emotional scenes, before leaving the audience with a satisfying and light-hearted resolution.
Newcomer Brohm Dason, a film school student who has done background work on TV shows and films, was happy to land the role of irresponsible Owen Melville: “It’s a role that speaks to me. It requires me to dig deep to lend my character compassion, show strong emotion and comedic range. The script is very strong in its rhythm and romance and its themes of coming of age, and overcoming societal and family pressures.” Craig Bjornson, playing older brother Lee Melville echoes Dason’s fondness for the script, with “its careful character studies wrapped in comedic mayhem”.
The two ladies in this comic four-hander appreciate the camaraderie at rehearsals and backstage. Robin Stille, playing the tender-hearted romantic Mary, says “I’ve enjoyed the supportive atmosphere, the professionalism and commitment of everyone involved in this production.” Blossoming in her role as Mary’s flirtatious younger sister, Sarah Williams (Loretta) agrees. “Everyone is kind and welcoming, especially those who have been a part of SOAP for a long time towards those of us who are newbies.”
Stage manager Penelope Johnson adds, ”Jennifer would be so pleased. This show is a fitting testament to her belief in the importance of respect and mutual support between members of cast and crew. Having her photo watching over us backstage reminds us of that.” SOAP is directing $2 from every ticket towards a memorial for Jennifer Mapplebeck, to be announced at a later date. Its SOSS bursary for graduates with an interest in community theatre and / or professional threatre studies will be renamed the “Jennifer Mapplebeck Memorial Bursary” in her honour.
The Melville Boys runs Friday May 1 and Saturday May 2 at the Frank Venables Theatre in Oliver. 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 advance and $20 at the door. Available at Sundance Video (Oliver), Your Dollar Store with More (Osoyoos) and Dragon’s Den (Penticton). Info: www.soplayers.ca/melville-boys or 250-498-0183.