Laureen F. Guenther
Heather Pattengale, Rosebud actress and instructor, performs in We are the Body, a new Canadian play opening in Calgary May 13.
"We are the Body follows the journey of three prisoners behind the Iron Curtain in post-war Romania," Pattengale says. "They are prisoners of conscience."
Pattengale, her fellow Rosebud graduate John McIvor, and Tim Bratton of Saskatoon play the prisoners.
"The story shares their time in the prison and ... where their strength is coming from," Pattengale says. "It also has flashbacks to their lives before they were in prison."
Playwright Andrew Kooman, who also wrote the award-winning She Has a Name, drew inspiration for We are the Body from the life of Richard Wurmbrand, who was imprisoned in Romania for more than 12 years in the 1950s and 1960s. This play includes parts of sermons Wurmbrand wrote in prison, Pattengale says, but the events of the play are fictitious.
She acknowledges the challenges of performing a play with such heavy content.
"Letting myself go to those dark places of despair," she says, "it's a tricky thing to not carry that out of the rehearsal at the end of the day."
But "the wonderful thing about the way Andrew Kooman wrote (the play) is that the piece doesn't actually leave us there," she says. "It says don't look away. ... But don't despair either, because it doesn't have to be this way. There is hope."
This play's unique story makes the challenges especially worthwhile for Pattengale, who studied both fine and performing arts, and peace and conflict studies, at university.
"This is the first time I've gotten to do a show where the two are really closely aligned, and that's exciting for me," she says, "especially with what is going on in the world right now, when we think of ISIS.
"I don't think we can turn a blind eye to the other people around the world and the title of this show speaks to that. We are the Body," she says. "We're not lone islands, so we have a responsibility to care for one another and to help those who are suffering and to not forget them. And that makes me really excited because I can get behind that."
Pattengale says the play might make some of us uncomfortable, but she challenges us to come outside of our comfort zones and see it. "That's actually where we learn," she says. "That's what this play is about -- causing people to stop and think."
At the same time, she says, the story also includes a lot of "pure entertainment and joy."
She believes that people interested in social justice will especially appreciate this play, as will people of faith, and everyone else who just enjoys a gripping story.
"It takes us on a roller-coaster ride that is full of laughter and emotion and twists that are unexpected in the plot," she says. However, this show is not recommended for children.
We are the Body is playing May 5 to 9 in Red Deer, and will run May 13 to 23 at Calgary's Pumphouse Theatres. Then it moves to Saskatoon May 26 to 31. You may purchase tickets at burntthicket.com.