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  • Writer's pictureHannah Johnston

Newly renovated Casgrain Theatre welcomes Abbott alumni for JAC's 50th

A Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue landmark and the West Island's only English Cegep, John Abbott celebrated its 50th birthday in 2021. Many of the festivities are still ongoing due to pandemic-related postponements to commemorate the 50 years since the first 1237 students and 179 staff members crossed the threshold of the College. Today, the College welcomes 6500 day division students, and 2000 at the Centre for Continuing Education.

PHOTO: John Abbott College

Many Abbott alums, teachers, and retirees marked their return to the newly renovated Casgrain Theatre at the College with Bridge Theatre Mtl's production of The Odd Couple.

PHOTOS: Rebecca Croll

The goal of the Company is to help theatre students and graduates bridge the learning gap between theatre training institutions and the real world of professional productions.

John Abbott College's (JAC) Professional Theatre Acting is a three-year career program for which the College has merited an impressive reputation. It is known to shape actors in a theatre training environment through acting interpretation, voice, movement, creation, contact improv, and character and text analysis.

For students who wish to work behind the scenes and assist productions, JAC's Live Entertainment Design and Production career program prepares students to become specialists in production design and creation or technical design and management.

The Company came together for its first production, The Odd Couple, written by Neil Simon, as part of the JAC 50th anniversary. Directed by JAC Theatre retiree Terry Donald, this is their incredibly unique way of highlighting fifty years of John Abbott College in the community.

The two leads of The Odd Couple, Robert Di Loreto, who plays the fastidious Felix Ungar, and Adam LeBlanc, who plays Oscar Madison in the production, shared their insight into these roles and the weight the production holds within the context of John Abbott's Casgrain Theatre.

PHOTOS: Rebecca Croll

Q: The Odd Couple is the first production by Bridge Theatre Mtl in honor of JAC's 50th anniversary. Is there an added excitement or pressure, considering this is a first for the team?

A: (Robert Di Loreto)

There is absolutely added excitement with this production. It really is an honor to be asked to perform for the College's 50th-anniversary celebration. The added pressure, I think, comes from the fact that we are inaugurating the newly renovated Casgrain Theatre and, perhaps more significantly, that we are performing live for the first time since the pandemic. We are well aware that this will mark most of our audience members' first time being back to watch live theatre. That fact had everything to do with the actual play selection. We put a lot of thought into what play would be appropriate.

It was clear from the start that a comedy would be best suited to welcome people back after the pandemic's impact on us all. We also wanted to choose something familiar for all ages, so as people ventured out for the first time, that familiarity would provide comfort. Furthermore, considering some of the themes of the play: relationships, change, compromise, etc., we couldn't ignore how that paralleled what most people had to deal with in their own relationships concerning working from home and being locked down, so The Odd Couple seemed like a perfect fit.

A: (Adam LeBlanc)

We have been so humbled and honored by the support the College has given us; they've been there from the start! Independent professional theatre companies don't usually get to perform in such amazing spaces because it's cost prohibitive to do so. We were invited to put on this show and work collaboratively with the College and the theatre department, so we definitely want everyone to feel like they made a great decision bringing us in!

Q: What would you tell curious readers about what makes The Odd Couple such a unique production?

A: (Robert Di Loreto)

Most people are familiar with The Odd Couple in some form: the play, the 1968 movie, or the 70s sitcom, so we definitely wanted to be faithful to the characters people know so well. That being said, our director Terry Donald, and our whole team were adamant about making sure that these characters were real. There are many productions of The Odd Couple that get away with going for the big laughs. After all, Neil Simon is a master of language, and the lines are so well written you just have to say them. But for us, it was important to dig deeper. There is plenty of depth in Simon's subtext. In fact, when he wrote it, he thought he had written a very dark comedy. By the end of the play, Oscar and Felix have evolved in a way, learning a little more about each other and learning a lot about themselves. It was important to us to play these characters earnestly so that we earned that revelation. Not to worry, our production supplies the 'humor', but audiences have also been pleasantly surprised by its 'heart'.

A: (Adam LeBlanc)

I'm really proud of the direction this show has taken. Everyone knows that The Odd Couple is a very funny piece, but it tackles some really serious themes, and we wanted our production to be grounded in reality and not just to play to the humor of it; I think that's what's going to make it stand out.

The humor is in the writing. Neil Simon is a genius, but there are some pretty sad and touching moments, and we wanted to give them the weight they deserved. Something else that helps with the storytelling is that Robert (Felix) and I are very close friends in real life. Our characters are meant to be the best of friends, and our real-life relationship has meant that we have a natural shorthand and ease with each other that many wouldn't be able to achieve in a short rehearsal period.


Q: Does putting on this production in the newly-renovated Casgrain Theatre feel like a homecoming? What emotions or past Abbott memories does it evoke?

A: (Adam LeBlanc)

The Casgrain Theatre holds such a special place in my heart. It's where I first really fell in love with theatre and acting. It's where I met our Artistic Director, Terry Donald. Terry was my acting teacher when I was in the Professional Theatre Program many eons ago, and we have collaborated on shows ever since I graduated back in 2004 (fun fact - it's also where I met my partner, fellow Bridge Theatre Company member Rebecca Croll). Just being back in person, on a stage, with a live audience brings a lot of great emotions after the few years we have all experienced! It's an honor to have been asked to mount the first play in the newly renovated space.

PHOTOS: Rebecca Croll

Four shows remain in the Company's run at the Casgrain Theatre in John Abbott College. The performances will be held on Thursday, September 22nd, Friday the 23rd, and Saturday the 24th, from 7:30-9:30 pm., with a Sunday matinee being held on the 25th from 2-4 pm. To purchase tickets, click here.

A special thank you to Debbie Cribb, Rebecca Croll, Adam LeBlanc, and Robert Di Loreto.

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