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Davinder Malhi (left) as Malhi and Linda Kash as Marjorie in Casey and Diana at Stratford Festival 2023.Cylla von Tiedemann/Handout

Casey and Diana, Nick Green’s hit history play set in Toronto’s Casey House AIDS hospice in the lead-up to a visit by Princess Diana in 1991, is back on stage this week at Soulpepper in the city where it is set.

We won’t re-review director Andrew Kushnir’s moving production as it has transferred from its sold-out run last summer at the Stratford Festival mostly intact. (Canadians across the country can stream a recording on stratfest@home, too, by the way.)

In my original Critic’s Pick review of the play, I highlighted the great performance by acting veteran Linda Kash, who plays a middle-aged volunteer at the hospice named Marjorie – a woman full of compassion, but not always in control of her emotions. I quickly caught up with Kash – who is highly recognizable from the comedic side of her career that has involved everything from Second City to Seinfeld – over e-mail ahead of her return to the role.

Your performance as Marjorie was such a complex portrait of a kind of woman often sidelined in society – and yet who gives so much back to it.

Marjorie is sheer joy to embody. Her heart is in such a good place. She truly wants to be of service and to deeply connect with the residents at Casey House. But like all of us at times, what she thinks is generosity is less of a help when her own needs come into play.

I read in the Stratford program that Maureen Forrester, the great opera singer, once visited Casey House and sang lullabies to the residents one Christmas Eve. But I only just made the connection that Forrester was your mother. Did she ever talk to you about that?

My mom did a lot of beautiful things for people in her lifetime, without looking for any private or public acknowledgment. She truly was a good person to her core. And she had a lot of dear friends in the gay community, many of whom she lost during that time. Our director Andrew asked me if we could play some of my mom’s music preshow. It always puts me in the right frame backstage. I think of her a lot these days.

What’s it like being in a history play about a time you lived through yourself?

I think that this play is an integral story to tell about a brutal time in our history. When community members and activists put their fear of the unknown aside, and gave their time, energy and love to a marginalized group who severely suffered from the government’s foot dragging. I’m in awe of people like June Callwood and all the front-line workers, astonished by the numbers of beloved artists lost during that time. I wish I’d been less self-absorbed in my 20s so that I could have been more active myself.

I feel like you must be great at the game “two truths and a lie.” You were in three Ernest movies, two Christopher Guest mockumentaries and you got to break up with an outraged George Costanza by saying “it’s not you, it’s me” on Seinfeld. What, for you, is your most surprising claim to fame?

My most inspiring claim to fame is that I’m still doing this after 40-plus years. That my mind and body can withstand the energy and endurance and brain power it takes to be an actor. I still love coming to work, wherever work takes me. And to quote my mother, the definition of success is when they want you back.

And to end (with apologies): Do people still stop you on the street and recognize you as the Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese Angel?

The cream cheese angel factor is slowing down a little bit these days. But when people do recognize me, they often tell me that they grew up with me in their living room, which I love! I’ve been a Halloween and drag queen costume and once, while at a funeral, a kid was thrilled that an angel had appeared to pay her respects to their grandparent. What could be better?

This interview has been edited and condensed

More reviews you can use in Vancouver and Winnipeg

  • Mike Payette’s production of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play Choir Boy, seen at Canadian Stage last season, is at the Arts Club in Vancouver from Thursday to Feb. 25. When it was in Toronto, I talked to its Oscar-winning playwright – and Mira Miller reviewed the production for The Globe. (Note: A couple cast members have changed since then.)
  • David Yee’s among men, a play about poets Al Purdy and Milton Acorn, is on at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg from Wednesday to Feb. 10. I saw it and quite liked it in its 2022 premiere at the Factory Theatre in Toronto; you can read what I wrote about it then, but just to be clear: The Winnipeg production is entirely new. (By the way, if you missed Yee’s inspiring speech upon winning the Siminovitch Prize in the fall, it’s very much worth a listen.)

What’s on stage this week in Toronto

  • Opening: Rockabye, a play by Australia’s Joanna Murray-Smith about a pop star reinventing herself after 40, is being mounted by ARC on the Factory Theatre main stage from Friday to Feb. 11. The cast of Rob Kempson’s production includes Deborah Drakeford, Nabil Traboulsi, Christopher Allen, Sergio Di Zio, Kyra Harper, Julie Lumsden and Shauna Thompson.
  • Closing: Theatre Rusticle has returned with a physical, five-actor theatre take on The Tempest. Director Allyson McMackon’s production comes to an end at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre on Sunday.
  • Opening and closing: For International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Saturday, the Harold Green Jewish Theatre is presenting, one night only, The Shoah Songbook from the Likht Ensemble. This concert narrated by Ben Heppner explores music written by Jewish composers who perished in the concentration camps and ghettos of the Holocaust.

More festivals, and more on festivals

A festival I left out of last week’s newsletter about the Canadian touring circuit for avant-garde and/or international work this time of year was the Living Things International Arts Festival in Kelowna, B.C. It’s on until Sunday – and later this week it presents Ramanenjana, a docufiction/dance performance from Romanian choreographer and filmmaker Simona Deaconescu and Malagasy dance artist Gaby Saranouffi, that just played at PuSh in Vancouver.

Elsewhere on that circuit, the High Performance Rodeo in Calgary yee-haws into its second week with programming that includes Indians and Cowboy, a Making Treaty 7 Production featuring old western movie footage that runs Thursday to Saturday. According to the news release, it puts “bonafide real Indians and cowboys right under that silver screen, whoopin’ and hollerin’, yodelin’ and revoicing to them movin’ picture actors.”

The PuSh Festival, meanwhile, is still running in Vancouver and I’m heading out myself for a couple of days to see programming that hasn’t been cancelled there – and, in one case, a show that has been un-cancelled.

because i love the diversity (this micro-attitude, we all have it), a show by the Belgium-based Indian choreographer and dancer Rakesh Sukesh in which he tackles the time he inadvertently became the poster boy for a right-wing news channel’s campaign against immigration, is on until Wednesday. It’s a collaboration with Siminovitch Prize-winning writer Marcus Youssef – and was supposed to be presented last year, but Sukesh did not get his visitor’s visa in time to attend.

I wrote about that and some of the challenges PuSh has had trying to bring in a truly international mix of artists – that is, not just the well-funded, European ones who can travel here no problem – last year.

While we’re on the subject of the challenges and changing contexts of presenting international work in Canada, I should note that Canadian scholar Ric Knowles’ academic book International Theatre Festivals and 21st Century Interculturalism came in paperback in November, so is now the price of, well, a normal hardcover.

It gives an interesting perspective on international theatre circuits with Knowles suggesting they “often replicate earlier colonial trade routes … through which Europe’s colonies were despoiled of their natural resources” and “emulate the ways in which European settlers from the 16th century onward imposed European imaginings of theatrical space onto landscapes considered to be culturally empty.” Food for thought.

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