Politically charged theatre? Only if it’s Canadian!

Theatre by the River puts on the award-winning Generous just in time for the election

Rod Beilfuss is not being very generous with the crackers. Sharon Bajer requires a salty snack! Matt TenBruggencate

For the last five years, local theatre troupe Theatre by the River has been performing a mix of classical works and new Canadian plays.

Spearheaded by husband and wife duo Matt TenBruggencate and Mel Marginet, the collective is made up completely of University of Winnipeg theatre graduates, including Brent Hirose, James Furby and Rod Beilfuss.

“We realized in order to work we would have to create our own work, because it’s a very competitive field,” says Beilfuss, director of TBTR’s newest show, the politically charged Generous. “It makes sense to hire the same people over and over.”

Since its founding, TBTR has seen its share of success, from Fringe Fest hits Autobahn and One Good Marriage, to The Bush-Ladies: In Their Own Words, which also ran in Assiniboine Park.

“The idea was to do classical works and new Canadian plays,” Beilfuss says. “It’s called Theatre by the River because we were trying to focus on classical works and perform them outdoors. By the river. Literally.”

Through the years, the ranks have slimmed to five or six, resulting in a few guest thespians.

In its Manitoba debut, Generous will feature such actors as Kevin Klassen, Kevin Anderson, Sharon Bajer, Sarah Constible and constant TBTR collaborator Bernie Pastorin.

The play tells four interconnected stories that question the idea of the selfless act. It may be set in the world of politics, but Beilfuss, who also co-stars, says it has something for everyone.

“Anybody from any side of the spectrum can have a good time watching the play,” he says. “The play does carry a lot of political messages, but it really isn’t about dissecting politics. It’s about people dealing with their personal issues.”

However, it doesn’t hurt to perform a politically themed play in the time leading up to an election.

“You should always think ‘Why this play and why this play now?’ – especially when you’re applying for funding,” he laughs. “When the elections came up, we had a different project picked initially, and then that didn’t work out. Suddenly Canuck politics were becoming exciting. The best things kind of just happen by accident.”

Michael Healey’s play has been a hit since it debuted in 2006, winning one of Canada’s most prestigious awards, the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Best New Play.

“It’s such a classic Canadian thing that our works tend to be received or seen as better outside Canada, which is kind of sad, but also a very Canadian thing,” Beilfuss says. “It’s been done in London twice but Manitoba has never seen it. There’s a problem there.”

Theatre By the River presents Generous, directed by Rod Beilfuss, at 70 Albert St. until Saturday, Oct. 8. Tickets are $15 or $10 for students and seniors. For reservations, call 417-0271 or email theatrebytheriver@gmail.com. Visit www.theatrebytheriver.com.

Published in Volume 66, Number 5 of The Uniter (September 29, 2011)

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