Published on Monday, 25 March 2013 17:42 | WRITTEN BY JUSTIN WILSON
If I Weren’t With You shows how the grass isn’t always greener
To some, the theatrical exploration of a fragile marriage might seem too heavy a topic to come alive in a musical comedy.
But when If I Weren’t With You makes its April 1 premiere, that’s exactly what Lunchbox Theatre will stage.
The production examines the married life of Pam and Allen as they dream about the magnificent lives they would be leading had they not tied the knot some nine years ago.
Missed opportunities and unrealized dreams will be presented through song as the central couple imagines the fantastical ideas of what might have been.
Calgary native Joe Slabe, plays “Steve,” a friend to both Pam and Allen and a central character in the production. Steve inadvertently finds himself thrust into the role of confidant as the couple sings their way through a matrimonial rough patch.
Is the grass always greener on the other side?
“I think the play is really universal in that it speaks to something we all go through, but it approaches it with fun and with humour,” says Slabe, who also wrote the musical.
“But it doesn’t pull any punches. It’s very real, but in the end it leaves you in a hopeful and happy place.”
Slabe says that the common theme, “the grass is always greener,” is very present in If I Weren’t With You. His character, a gay man envious of the seemingly stable relationship of Pam and Allen, is caught in the middle while they express longing for the freedom he appears to have.
More than a comedic production
Director David Leyshon says the play is an examination of how we grow together as people and how we communicate with each other in a culture surrounded by the feeling that something better might be right around the corner. By looking at the topic from a lighter perspective, the musical searches for the positives in growing together as people.
“It’s a great, funny, sweet musical and I think what Joe has written has amazing depth,” says Leyshon. “There’s more to it than just some people singing. It’s got a complexity that examines how we are together.”
Leyshon says that the play looks at communication in a modern society. He points to how easy it is to simultaneously be texting, checking Facebook and engaging in a face-to-face conversation. He adds that we can never be totally present while trying to utilize all these tools at once.
“How does that effect how we communicate with our partners, or with our friends? How do we really talk to one another?” says Leyshon.
Slabe says that everyone who’s in a long-standing relationship deals with these issues at some point or another.
“Those feelings are totally normal. It’s about compromise and work and love. It’s about doing what’s best for you as a couple as opposed to what you individually need.”
Calgary psychologist Elicia Miller has been working with couples for the last two years and says that the musical’s premise taps into our cultural assumptions about what marriage should be.
“People sometimes have this attitude now that marriage is going to slow you down, or it’s going to stop you from achieving your dreams,” says Miller.
“It’s an unfortunate societal perspective, but I think with this type of play, it will stimulate conversation, and people really should talk about these issues instead of pretending they don’t exist.”
The big premiere
When the play opens, it will be a night of firsts for both Slabe and Leyshon. Not only will April 1 be the production’s premiere, both men are stepping into unfamiliar theatrical territory.
It will be the first major acting role for Slabe, the founder, artistic director and musical director of Calgary’s Forte Musical Theatre Guild. He’s also the 2010 Betty Mitchell award winner for outstanding musical direction in Theatre Calgary’s production of The 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
For Leyshon, whose acting resume boasts more than 50 productions — including the role of Rupert Cadell in Vertigo Theatre’s 2012 production of Rope— If I Weren’t With You marks his directorial debut.
The musical runs from April 1-20 and will be shown on Lunchbox Theatre’s TransCanada Stage.
For more information, visit Lunchbox Theatre.