By Pavlo Tull
Every week during the winter semester, members of the Dawson Theatre Collective spend their evenings rehearsing.
On May 7, 8 and 10, the collective will perform Looking for Virgil Swift, shattering traditional expectations of what theatre can be. The characters are based on literary figures, from heroes of ancient Greek mythology and Shakespeare to such modern heroines as Hermione Granger from Harry Potter.
“It’s a quest story about two students, Chris Bunion and Liz Granger, who go looking for a missing professor and they need him to pass their course,” director Ann Lambert said.
Lambert is an acclaimed playwright and an English teacher at Dawson. “It’s a comedic look at what it is to be a student these days—an examination of what we’re all looking for.”
For stage manager Kelsey Litwin, a cast of 31 can be a lot to handle. “It’s hectic in the best way,” she said. “Ultimately, I find it incredibly rewarding.”
Sarah Heft joined the collective this year and has the role of Liz, a lead protagonist.
“I love Liz, she’s intense,” Heft said. The role of Liz is one of the double-cast roles and will also be played by actor Karyna Cuffaro.
“It’s a fun character to play,” said Cuffaro, who joined the group as a writer but became interested in acting. “I’ve never acted on a stage before. It’s nerve wracking. I’m going to faint.”
While Cuffaro is performing for the first time, Heft has several years of acting experience and says she’s excited for the show.
“It covers a lot of heavy subjects, but doesn’t brush over them,” she said.
“There are many undertones that come through,” actor Alex Cruz said. “Presented is the idea of lost parents, letting go of one’s inhibitions towards love and sex, and so on.”
Cruz will play the characters Chris, the other lead protagonist, and Peter.
“I like playing Chris, he’s complex and provides some of the emotional subtext to the play outside Liz’s storyline,” Cruz said. “But I love playing Peter so much more. I get to play with the character more.”
A late addition to the cast was actor Carl Bindman. He plays Professor Gilmore Rand, who takes over once Swift goes missing. “He’s so out there,” Bindman said. “It’s so much fun to inhabit that twisted mental space.”
To Bindman, performing in front of an audience brings a human connection in a way that you can’t find when interacting with people through social media or via phone. Peoples’ interaction with technology is a theme explored in the play.
“Your actions, words, and behaviour have a direct reaction from the people they are meant to affect,” Bindman said. “It’s delightful.”
“People come to me and say, ‘I can’t believe what those guys manage to do’,” Lambert said. “They are impressed by the enthusiasm of the actors.”
Each year the collective votes on a charitable organization to which they donate the proceeds of the show. For the past five years it has donated to the Theresa Foundation, which supports African children orphaned because of AIDS and was founded by Lambert’s mother, Theresa. Litwin says the contribution gives people a chance to think about the bigger picture.
“What we do in 20 villages is life changing stuff,” Lambert said. “We provide a sustainable source of food, fertilizer and medical care as well as sending four girls to school every year since 2008.”
Looking for Virgil Swift runs May 7 and 8 at 8 pm and May 10 at 2 pm and 8 pm at Dawson Theatre, 2000 Atwater. Tickets are $10-$15.
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