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Backstage Theatre’s ‘Pretty Goblins’ tackles the universal obstacles of addiction and trauma

What: Pretty Goblins
Where: Backstage Theatre
When: April 18-29
Tickets: $22.50 for students and seniors, $25 for adults, plus fees, purchasable here

Playwright: Beth Graham
Director: Brian Dooley
Featuring: Nadien Chu, Miranda Allen
Production Designer: Megan Koshka
Sound Designer: Jason Kodie
Stage Manager: Erin Valentine


Edmonton audiences will see a tale of two sisters play out onstage in Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre’s world premiere of Beth Graham’s Pretty Goblins.

The play chronicles the intersecting lives of Lizzie and Laura, two sisters who navigate personal trauma over the course of 36 years. The play’s central source of conflict is Lizzie’s addiction, which Graham, an Edmonton-based actor and playwright, sees as a universal problem.

“(Addiction) affects everyone so differently, so I really wanted to take it into character. How women handle it is often with (humour to diffuse tension),” Graham says. “You know when something awful is happening, but you can’t help but laugh? That’s kind of how the sisters cope.”

By following the characters over the course of their lives, the audience gets to see how Lizzie’s addiction changed their lives and personalities, Graham says. While tracking Lizzie and Laura through such an expansive timeframe, Graham hopes the audience will see the beauty of the two sisters’ love and their attempt to return to it — to the time before life’s events took their toll. Graham says theatre lends itself to a non-linear exploration of time, since the audience is ready to buy in to a journey with immediate impact.

Marc J. Chalifoux

“I find in theatre you can play so much with time,” Graham says. “It’s fun to jump around in a non-linear manner or just trust that the audience is going to go with the passage of time.”

Graham arrived at the 36-year journey of Pretty Goblins while writing a series of memory scenes of the two sisters at different ages during significant rites of passage. After writing successive drafts of the play, one with the two sisters joined by two other characters on a road trip, another with the two sisters in a different scenario, Graham realized that these memory scenes were the keys to the play itself. Having written hundreds of pages of script, Graham began shaping her work into a cohesive 90-minute drama.

“The process at first was about just generating as much (material) as I could,” Graham says. “And now, it’s about trimming the fat — and there was a lot of it!”

Graham began her career in theatre as an actor, graduating from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting in 1998. Upon graduating, Graham and her former classmate Daniela Vlaskalic struggled to find material that spoke to them, and thus decided to write something together. Along with their former teacher, the director Charlie Tomlinson, Graham and Vlaskalic co-created The Drowning Girls, now a mainstay of the emerging repertoire of contemporary Canadian drama. From there, Graham continued to write, earning an Governor General’s Literary Award nomination for her play The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble. Nowadays, Graham finds that her different roles as actor and playwright complement each other.

“I find my way into plays a lot of the time as an actor, like ‘What kind of character would I want to play?’” Graham says. “It’s always that approach of ‘Where am I coming from? What do I want?’… It’s always been an actorly approach.”

A series of salons on subjects ranging from grief and the paranormal, women and advocacy, and trauma from a survivor’s point of view, plus a night of poetry in partnership with the Edmonton Poetry Festival and a talkback with the playwright, will accompany the run of the show. Select performances will also include ASL interpretation. Ultimately, Graham hopes audience members will come ready to buy into a poignant story.

“It’s live and up close and raw and funny,” Graham says. “You’re in for a ride.”

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