Wes Lazaroff, left, Sherri McLean, Dave Bigelow and Dana Mowbray star in Nanaimo Theatre Group’s presentation of Toronto, Mississippi. RACHEL STERN / The News Bulletin

VIDEO: Nanaimo Theatre Group play is a story about the power of family and love

Toronto, Mississippi debuts in Nanaimo Wednesday (April 19)

The play Toronto, Mississippi gives a snapshot into the lives of four individuals struggling to deal with everyday life.

Jhana, an 18-year-old mentally challenged young woman, lives with her mother Maddie and their boarder Bill, who is a poet. When Jhana’s father, King, arrives, jealousies flare. King, an Elvis impersonator, has dreams of reuniting the family he abandoned years ago.

“This is a play about very real people having very real experiences and trying to find ways to connect with each other,” said Dave Bigelow, who plays the character Bill. “It’s just a wonderful story and a lot of fun and I think people will leave the theatre talking about it. It’s not the kind of play they will forget about the minute they are in the car.”

Bigelow’s character Bill has a minor crush on Maddie, played by Sherri McLean who won Best Director at last year’s Theatre B.C. North Island Zone Festival. King becomes aware of the infatuation and tensions rise. Meanwhile, Jhana, played by Dana Mowbray, is working at her first job and trying to push boundaries to achieve her dreams.

“It’s funny and moving and about family, whether it is the family you are born into or the family you make,” said McLean. “All the characters are very distinct and very different … very real.”

Wes Lazaroff, who plays the character King, said the play has a “nice emotional arc” that the audience will be able to “live through” during the performance. Because the play is a snapshot there is no definitive end.

“How it ends, nobody is really going to know where everyone ends up because it’s kind of uncertain which is a great way to end a play – open ended,” said Lazaroff.

Peggy Harris, the play’s director, said she saw the play 25 years ago. It was memorable because of the humanity of the characters and the poignant issues it dealt with. She also selected the play because this year for the Theatre B.C. mainstage the play had to be by a Canadian playwright, in celebration of Canada’s 150.

“Ultimately, this play is about the power of family and love, and, with the loving support of her mother and boarder, Bill, Jhana’s small victories make the grey drudgery in her world shrink away,” said Harris in her director’s notes. “Would that we all faced each day with the same perspective.”

Toronto, Mississippi shows Wednesday to Saturday (April 19-22), April 26-29 and May 3-6 at 8 p.m. and April 23 and 30 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 available in advance by calling 250-758-7224 or by visiting www.nanaimotheatregroup.ca. Shows are at Bailey Studio, located at 2373 Rosstown Rd.

arts@nanaimobulletin.com