Christian Pawlowski (left) plays Tobias and John Moerschbacher the title role of Tobit.

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Christian Pawlowski (left) plays Tobias and John Moerschbacher the title role of Tobit.

August 25, 2014
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Many of the acts at the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival push to be the most absurd, sexual and extreme. There are plays about incest and rape, another about a phone sex operator, which in some instances actually glorify these acts.

In contrast, One Candle Productions presented Tobit, a 90-minute, family-friendly play.

"I was reading the press releases for the other shows, and you actually start to feel like kind of a dork. You feel like you're showing up at a beach party with a tuxedo on," said Mena Jewell, noting how her play didn't seem to fit with the rest of the Fringe lineup.

Jewell always loved the classic tale of Tobit. After reading it years ago, she thought someone should use the story as the basis for a play. It never occurred to her then that she would write, direct and produce the play herself.

MODERN SENSIBILITIES

Since the original story is set in 710 BC, she realized the language and archaic phrases would be confusing to modern sensibilities. In bringing Tobit to the stage, she adapted the language for a contemporary audience.

Unlike plays that might be seeking laughs or shock value, Tobit has substance.

"The son and daughter are so solicitous for the health and well-being of their parents. The parents are so concerned about their children. You see these two almost ideal families," said Jewell. "It's inspirational to see two families that are functioning in such positive ways.

"We don't get enough of that in our modern media image. It seems like we're so obsessed with exploring dysfunction."

Christian Pawlowski, one of the 12-member cast, plays the role of Tobias.

Pawlowski respects the story because it shows that old virtues still have meaning. The veteran of theatre and film acting said it brings a Christian presence to the Fringe, with morals peppered throughout the story.

A SPECIAL BLESSING

"I feel really blessed and honoured that I got to be a part of this one. I didn't realize at the time how special this play is, but now I see it in a category of its own among Fringe plays," he said.

The Fringe runs Aug. 14-24. Tobit was performed six times, including a midnight show Aug. 14 at King Edward Elementary School.

Preparing the play did not come without hurdles. For example, the play involves a goat. In preparation for the Fringe, the cast did a live performance at St. Thomas More Church and used a live goat. With performances at the school, a live animal was not permitted.

Two of the actors, including John Moerschbacher who plays the lead role of Tobit, made the long trek from Rosebud, near Calgary, for weekly rehearsals for about four months. Dave Kantor, in the role of Azarius, was hospitalized recently with gall bladder issues. There were sound and lighting problems, and other glitches.

"Every day there is some small detail, some issue that needs to be figured out or ironed out," said Jewell.

After watching the Aug. 17 performance, Dylan Evans said most shows dealing with faith are New Testament stories, so he was pleased to see a tale from the Old Testament. He liked the "sense of honour" that the characters displayed.

Tobias lived in Assyria. Once rich, he was reduced to poverty due to blindness. His last desire is for his son, Tobias, to travel to Medea to retrieve silver. Meanwhile, Sarah, played by Meaghan Sheehan, is mocked by her servants as she deals with the deaths of her seven husbands.

The play delves into the mystery of human suffering.

"Faith in God is huge, and to trust in him, because as black as things may seem, he's there. It's actually quite beautiful," said Sheehan.

Bob Locicero played the role of Raguel. Among more than 100 shows playing at the Fringe, he said Tobit, while dramatically different, is not out of place. He witnessed keen interest in the play.

Participating in Tobit has been a "refreshing experience" and an opportunity to learn something new, he said.

JOYFUL ENDING

"I like that it ended on a positive note," said Courtney King, viewing the Aug. 17 performance.

Also enjoying the show was Dianne Skoetsch.

"I found it very emotional, and I think it was reflective on some of my own feelings towards death and sorrow," said Skoetsch. "I didn't think it would have such a happy ending.

"Out of 10, I'd give this a nine. It's definitely a top-notch show," Skoetsch said.