Veteran Vancouver actor Kerry Sandomirsky knows as well as anyone that the theatre world is in flux. Plays that were once performed on stages without a second thought are now scrutinized for anything that smacks of racism, sexism, ableism, or any other ism.
This has presented opportunities for some actors. But it has also left others who have worked in theatre for years wondering about their place if more roles are reserved for those with lived experiences matching that of their characters.
“We’re similar to some of those Chekhovian characters looking around bewildered and thinking, ‘What now?’ ” Sandomirsky tells the Straight by phone. “So the new world is emerging but the oldies are left standing, saying, ‘What stories are we
allowed to tell?’ ”
That’s the premise of Jason Sherman’s Ominous Sounds at the River Crossing; or, Another Fucking Dinner Party Play, which Touchstone Theatre will premiere this month. Directed by Roy Surette, it features Kerry Sandomirsky, Monice Peter, Alex Poch-Goldin, Allan Morgan, Nicola Lipman, and Angela Chu as actors in a play.
Sandomirsky’s character decides that she’s had enough of performing in “dinner plays”, which generates an emotional discussion about storytelling, inclusivity, and cultural appropriation.
“You want to feel that the work you’re doing is relevant to the cultural conversation of the moment, which is why I jumped at this,” Sandomirsky says.
In Ominous Sounds, she’s reviving a character that she played more than two decades ago in one of Sherman’s earlier plays, Patience. That version was directed by Surette at the Belfry Theatre in Victoria.
“First of all, Roy casts well,” Sandomirsky says. “I don’t mean that in a self-aggrandizing way. He assembles a good group of people—good-hearted as well. He creates warm rooms, so you feel you have permission to explore a play like this.”
She describes Sherman, a Governor General’s Award winner, as an incredibly intelligent writer who can make audiences squirm in discomfort while still retaining a great deal of heart in his plays.
“That’s what makes it pleasurable,” Sandomirsky says. “It works on so many different levels.”
Plus, she notes that Sherman listens to suggestions from the cast and is willing to rewrite dialogue if a good case can be made for doing that.
At the same time, she says that he presents different perspectives in Ominous Sounds, which have the potential to ignite fiery debates among theatregoers after the lights go up. Or even before that occurs.
“I hope some people walk out,” Sandomirsky admits before quickly adding: “You know, that’s a really ridiculous thing to say.”
But then she says, “Oh, what a great thing to be in a play that, hopefully, will engender [such a] response.”
Sandomirsky is no stranger to controversy.
In David Hare’s Skylight, she says, she could feel the audience detesting her character’s point of view on opening night. Some even verbalized their feelings inside the theatre.
“I think Jason is going to tap into the same kind of thing,” Sandomirsky says.