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Award-winning play comes home

A new award-winning play will be staged for the first time in New Brunswick after distinguished runs in Toronto and Vancouver.

Lac/Athabasca was written by Len Falkenstein, a UNB English professor and drama director. It will be performed at Memorial Hall from Wednesday, Oct. 14 to Saturday, Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m. each night. 

“We’ve been working on the play for well over a year now, but we’ve never shown it at home,” said Falkenstein. “We’re anxious to show it to friends, family and people we’ve told about it for years.” 

The play came about after the train derailment and subsequent explosion in the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in 2013. Along with the crash, Falkenstein drew inspiration from discussions about the environmental and social impact of Alberta’s oil sands and oil transportation across Canada.

“There were so many preventable things that went wrong there,” Falkenstein said. “It’s clear that what happened was a case of cutting corners on a massive scale. Companies did all they could to save a buck and it resulted in all these people dying.”

Forty-two people were confirmed dead in the Lac-Mégantic disaster. Five more were missing and presumed to be dead.

“The fact the train was bound for New Brunswick made me feel connected to it in a strange way,” said Falkenstein. “We’re all dependent on this oil that was bound for here.” 

The play’s cast of Rebekah Chassé, Jake Martin, Alex Donovan, Emily Bossé and Jean-Michel Cliche plays several characters in a series of stories that range through time and space, while still focussing on the rivers and railways that connect Canada. 

Stories include two 19th century fur traders pursued by an unseen terror along Alberta’s Athabasca River, two scientists studying fish deaths and cancer rates near the tar sands, an oil worker who uncovers a horrible secret and residents of a small town united in grief after a preventable disaster.

The play premiered at the Vancouver Fringe Festival in 2014. It was then selected for production at the 2015 SummerWorks Theatre Festival in Toronto, where it gained national media exposure and rave reviews, including selections from NOW Magazine as one of its “Best of the Fest” and “Best Ensemble.” 

Earlier this year, the play placed second in the Herman Voaden National Playwriting Contest and the Ottawa Little Theatre National Playwriting Contest, which included workshop readings in both cities. 

“I’ve written and performed plays for 10 or 15 years, and this play has captured more attention than others,” said Falkenstein. “People who have seen it have been moved and inspired by it, which is gratifying.”

Falkenstein said the way the play has come together has exceeded his expectations.

“We did it on a tight timeline, so we put our heads down and went for it,” he said. “Whenever you do that, you’re never sure what the results will be or how people will respond.” 

Falkenstein said the play features an original score by Fredericton musician and composer Eric Hill and a visual projection design by Mike Johnston.

“Theatrically, it’s a rich work,” he said. “It’s worth the price of admission alone just to hear the music.”

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