Bessie Wapp (left) and Ellie Reynolds are the co-creators of Matchmaker on the Roof. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

One-woman shows explore love, family, and painful choices

Ellie Reynolds and Bessie Wapp tour back-to-back solo performances of On the Other Hand

In 2006, when she was 22, Ellie Reynolds married a man 36 years her senior after she had known him for three months.

She was a citizen of the U.K. and he was an immigrant from the U.S. living in Canada. Now they have three kids and live on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake.

It’s been a wild ride.

Reynolds has turned the story into a one-woman play, Matchmaker on the Roof, in which she plays multiple roles. The performance is directed by Bessie Wapp, who also helped Reynolds write the piece.

“It moves very fast between action and song and reflection and character,” Reynolds says.

Even though she had significant musical theatre experience as a young woman in England, this was a leap of faith. She’d never done a one-woman show. And this subject matter was so personal.

For example, there is a scene in which she is in bed with her future husband when he tells her he is 58, not in his 40s as she had believed.

“It is not explicit, but I talk about having sex with him for the first time, and finding out he was 36 years older than me. That moment is played out in bed. Audiences have told me, ‘Wow that was brave.’”

Wapp says that’s the reason audiences will be engaged, “because it is so personal and so brave. I love material that reveals our full humanity, reveals the challenge. It makes us feel closer as human beings.”

The piece has already been produced for audiences in Gray Creek and Creston. Those performances have been encouraging for Reynolds.

“I wondered: are they going to like me, and will I hold their attention? But people told me, ‘I was on the edge of my seat. I was mesmerized.’”

The story of how, where, and why Reynolds and her husband secretly got married is a focal point of the play.

“This story [of the wedding] is a farcical race against the clock,” says Wapp, “with obstacles-you-would-never-anticipate hilarity. You couldn’t make it up.”

Woven into the drama are songs from Fiddler on the Roof, a familiar musical in Reynolds’ secular Jewish childhood.

“It is about inter-generational change and conflict and tradition and daughters choosing inappropriate partners,” she says.

Matchmaker on the Roof ends “with me bringing out three dolls that represent my children — now ages three, five, and eight — and singing a song to them.”

Here’s a video of the two actors talking about their work:

Reynolds and her husband eventually got married again in a public ceremony on the East Shore. But Reynolds kept the story of the real marriage, the secret one, hidden for years.

The first person she told was Wapp, after she saw Wapp’s one-woman show Jesus Christ Superstore. That performance inspired Reynolds to tell her own story on the stage.

The duo will present both pieces back to back, entitled On the Other Hand: Two True Musical Tales of Choice, at various Kootenay locations this fall and winter in a tour supported by the Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance.

Wapp’s piece also includes songs from a musical – Jesus Christ, Superstar – and is a memoir about a last-minute crazy decision in a relationship.

Wapp was playing Pontius Pilate in a sing-along production of Jesus Christ, Superstar on Vancouver Island. She and a man had a romantic weekend and then had to search for a morning after pill on Easter Sunday. Eventually they found one at the superstore.

Wapp says writing the piece was her way, at age 38, of processing a yearning to have children that she realized she would never be able to fulfill.

“It tells the story of a surreal weekend in which a cinematic cult classic, the big box store phenomenon, and contraception converge with a sudden 11th hour yearning to have a child,” Wapp says.

Wapp and Reynolds will present On the Other Hand on Sept. 21 at the Taghum Hall and Sept. 28 at Heddlestone Village at Six Mile.

Tickets can be purchased at Eddy Music.

The full tour schedule can be found at facebook.com/ellieandbessie.

“We hope that audiences will leave the theatre drenched in wonder, dabbing at tears, and humming brilliant show tunes for the rest of the weekend,” says Wapp.



bill.metcalfe@nelsonstar.com

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