Some ideas spring to life almost fully formed; others take a while to percolate, they need to be put aside and returned to, tweaked and reworked and tweaked again, before they feel right and are introduced to the public. The premiere of And I Always Will… at The Wilton Playshop on Friday and Saturday, May 29 and 30, is one of the latter.
“The story takes place in Texas and a family member has Alzheimer’s. It has comedic and dramatic elements, as well as a little music — I even sing a bit,” said playwright and actor Diana Canova of Redding. “I didn’t set out to write a play about Alzheimer’s, but that’s how it evolved,” she continued. “The play isn’t about the disease, but the disease is a part of their lives, and the play is about how the family deals with it; there are many other things going on, just like life.
“I started working on the play more than 20 years ago,” she said. “It actually started as a writing exercise for a seminar; I wrote a scene between two women and the play grew from there. I wanted to write for women of ‘an age.’ We did the first reading with Rue McClanahan [Blanche in Golden Girls], Katherine Helmond [who played the mother of Canova’s character, Corinne, on Soap], and John Bennett Perry, as well as a few more readings, and it was well received, but it wasn’t quite right; I put it away for a long time… and now I am old enough to play the lead character!
“I love to write; I did some writing when I was in Hollywood, including a couple of episodes for my show Throb, and I’ve been writing children’s musicals for eight years. I visited the characters occasionally, as I liked these people, but I wanted to be sure it was a group of people an audience would like to spend an evening with as well.”
Last summer, a friend, Suzi Tucker, encouraged Canova to look at the play again. Meanwhile, she had become friendly with Don Bovingloh, an actor, director and teacher. He is director of theater arts at the Wooster School in Danbury and was a 12-year member of the Groundlings improv group in Los Angeles who also lives in Redding. “I needed someone to bounce things off of, and he agreed,” she said.
In addition to Canova, the cast of And I Always Will… comprises both professionals and nonprofessionals: Dan Southern (local physician as well a trained Shakespearean actor and dancer), Andrea Barrett, Valerie DiLorenzo, Kaitlin Ferrara (one of Canova’s students; she is adjunct professor of voice at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y.), Nancy Sinacori and Cole Tucker-Walton.
And I Always Will… is being presented as a semi-staged production, which means without sets, but with props, and there will be three performances: at 8 p.m. Friday, and at 3 and 8 p.m. on Saturday. The matinee will be followed by a talk-back, giving audience members a chance to provide direct input about the show to the cast and director. Representatives of the Alzheimer’s Association of Connecticut will also be on hand to answer questions. The evening performance will be followed by a light dessert reception.
A public performance of And I Always Will… “has been a long time coming,” said Canova, adding, “The actors are excited to do it; it’s been very gratifying to watch it come together; there is a lot of emotion involved. I’ve had so many champions of this piece along the way. One of them was Katherine Helmond who did the very first reading and always loved it; another was Ginger Cutter of the playshop, who had it brought to them.
“I was with Katherine recently and when I told her I was working on the play again she said, ‘Sometimes you have to wait for the time to be right; when the time is right, you know.’ It made me feel better about waiting so long,” she said with a laugh.
She noted that being in show business, whether TV, movies, Broadway or something in-between, is being part of a community, “and when you run into people you know or worked with, you just pick up where you left off.”
For Canova, much of her effort for the past 25 years has been “happily working with kids; I’ve taught kids who found their place through theater and I’ve taught kids have made it to Broadway.” Canova recently completed her 25th show with students at John Read Middle School, and also conducts a fifth-grade workshop there. She directs the fall musical at Joel Barlow High School, and the winter play, a 45-minute one-act play that is taken to festivals. Since its launch four years ago, the Barlow’s play has won first place twice and finished third this year. She has also directed the plays at Helen Keller Middle School in Easton for several years.
Additionally, eight years ago she launched an improve group for high schoolers called Troupe du Jour, which raises money for charity through its performances; to date it has raised more than $40,000.
“I enjoy making theater available to kids who want it and who need it; it’s good for their mental health and well-being. For some it is an oasis,” said Canova. “I want to continue to be there and help ensure that their experience in as positive, nurturing and fun as it can be, encouraging their talent and love of creativity.”
Canova’s approach meshes well with the mission of The Wilton Playshop, founded in 1937, which “has been to further the performing arts by providing quality live theater to the greater Wilton area, and by doing so, provide an educational and growing experience for all involved.” The presentation of And I Always Will… is a fundraiser for the playshop, with a portion of the proceeds being donated to the Alzheimer’s Association of Connecticut. Tickets are $25.
The Wilton Playshop is at 15 Lovers Lane. For additional information or to order tickets, www.wiltonplayshop.org or 203-762-7629