Alyson Grant’s Conversion to grace new NDG venue

“Conversion” has a double meaning for Montreal’s expanding Infinitheatre – both the title of its first major play of 2018 opening in February, and a description of the lovely “converted” church in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce that has become the company’s new home, at least for this season.

It is the third play by Alyson Grant to be produced on Montreal stages, a follow-up to her two successes: Trench Patterns, a dramatic, two-pronged reflection on war’s inhumanity, and Progress! – an absurdist comedy examining the life and death of the ghosts at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

An English teacher at Dawson College and former reporter for The Gazette, Grant’s works emerge from her concern for the edgy issues, including moral and ethical values that swirl around fast-changing developments and clashes including race, class, gender, and religion.

The play will be performed at Espace Knox, in the sanctuary of the former Knox Presbyterian Church on Godfrey Ave. It has been lovingly refitted for theatre with lights and rows of seats that offer unobstructed sightlines. Previews are set for February 6 and 7, and the run is from February 8 to 24, with Sunday matinees at 2 pm.

Although the setting for this play is simple, based on a family dinner, the idea developed from what Grant calls “different identity groups clashing and coming out of the woodwork more than ever.”

“It’s a classic dinner-party genre, with four family members gathered, and different racial and religious groups represented in the mix.”

One of the family members is an “overtly, in-your-face monster” – a “nasty, over-the-top” character who is also very funny.

“She is in the long line of mothers in the dramatic tradition, damaged and damaging, powerful and
manipulative, but enjoyable and entertaining at the same time.”

Her husband, a plastic surgeon, is depicted as a long-suffering good guy, but also a philanderer who fools around to compensate for what he misses in the marriage. He is “a bit of a foil for her character,” Grant notes.

The couple is Jewish, the wife having converted from Roman Catholicism, but the family is not observant.

The daughter is a surgeon. She’s in her 30s, hard-working, successful, ambitious, and her husband is a black Canadian who dropped out of medical school and works in a refugee centre.

“Their marriage is at a critical point, decisions have to be made and there are differing opinions as to what should be done,” Grant says. The man wants to discuss it, the wife does not, fearing her mother will “tear them apart.”

“It’s very fast moving, over the top hyper-realism,” she says, with a smile.

As the dinner unfolds, many surprises begin to emerge. Grant describes the play as “jarring at times, enjoyable, quite funny, with a seriousness as well,” It is about 90 minutes long and
is slated to be performed with no intermission.

Diana Fajrajsl plays the mother, with Timothy Hine, Mike Payette, and Denise Watt filling out the cast. The director is Guy Sprung, Infinitheatre’s artistic director who directed Grant’s previous works.

Tickets cost $17.40 to $26.10. The theatre is at 6215 Godfrey. Info: 514-987-1774

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