Strangers sit at the high-back benches, looking through windows at the high peaks of the Rockies, waiting for the train to arrive.
Built in 1925 in the town surrounded by one of Canada’s national parks, the Jasper Canadian National railway station still serves those commuting on the Rocky Mountaineer as well as VIA Rail’s The Canadian, Skeena, and Snow train lines.
The station is rather a romantic setting with its arts and craft style, including large cobblestone chimneys, limestone exterior and an exposed post and beam ceiling where circular chandeliers hang. Then there’s those multi-paned wood windows where you can see all the comings and goings.
It’s a setting that Canadian playwright Norm Foster, along with lyricist-composer Steve Thomas, capture in their 2001 musical Jasper Station, which is about to be staged at Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre.
Directed by Powerhouse veteran and local musician Bob Oldfield, the play’s setting, that of the interior of the station, has been designed and built by Vernon’s Dave Brotsky, who actually visited Jasper station while on a 61-day journey this past year.
“He took a lot of photos of the benches and the fine details of the architecture. The interior of the station as described in the play is slightly different that the actual station, but there are nods to the architecture. If anyone has been to Jasper and sees this set, they will say that it’s Jasper station,” said Oldfield.
Unique to this production is how the stage is set as a stage upon a stage. It is tilted to represent the station’s irregular rectangular footprint, and so that audiences can see all angles.
“It’s good to have Brot at the realm or it could have been a typical box set,” said Oldfield.
While in Jasper, Brotsky also spoke to the station master, make that mistress, who has worked at the station for the past 25 years.
“She didn’t know of the play’s existence,” said Oldfield. “We have invited her to the show, so we hope she will be able to make it.”
Jasper Station takes place between a five-year time period and follows six passengers who are catching the train from Jasper to Vancouver.
“It bounces from the present in 2000 back to ‘95 and then back to the present. We set the time frame on the Big M’s (now retired NHL star Frank Mahovlich) reference in the show… One of the cast talks about watching Mahovlich play hockey when he was a young boy sitting on his dad’s knee,” said Oldfield. “The characters are all on a journey of some kind and find themselves at the train station at different crossroads and stages in their lives. They connect through a weird way during the show then decide to keep in touch and reunite in the present.”
At the helm is the station master (played by Jackson Mace), who declares he wants to be a writer as he is good at observing, but needs help putting his words down. At the station, he connects with Rebecca (Katja Burnett), a young journalist who writes for the Spruce Grove Examiner, who offers to help him.
“Rebecca’s editor is growling at her for writing human interest stories instead of hard news,” said Oldfield.
Also on board for the ride is a 31-year-old hockey player (Michael Gairns), who has been called up by the Canucks from where he has been playing in Spokane. How he ended up at Jasper station is a mystery, said Oldfield, who was so confused on why the hockey player would go so out of his way to get to Vancouver that he actually contacted the playwright, Foster, to ask him.
“He had no excuse except to say that he was a dumb easterner and didn’t consider the travel distance,” laughed Oldfield.
Also at the station is an accountant named Stirling (Cliff Lattery), who wants to be a country music songwriter and is planning to go to Seattle, as it seems a better place to start out than Nashville.
Then there’s Nikki (Sandy Behan), who is a pregnant, hard-nosed tough girl and has just moved from Calgary and is heading up to Kitimat to go on what could be best described as an intergalactic journey to a new planet.
Last but not least is a woman (Roxanne Ricard), who has just walked out of her 19-year marriage and is still traumatized by what she has done, when she finds herself at the station.
“She attracts the attention of the station master. He is the glue and provides a listening ear to Roxanne’s character,” said Oldfield.
As this is a musical, the characters also sing, not to the audience, but to one another as an extension of their speaking lines as well as a way for the audience to learn more about their lives, said Oldfield.
A live band consisting of Alex MacArthur at the keys, drummer Rennie Sirianni and bassist Kerry Hutter will accompany the actors in what Oldfield describes as a complex set of songs.
“The opening number is done like a Greek chorus, with the characters all dressed in beige, suitcases at their side, singing the prologue before their journey begins,” said Oldfield. “There is also an element of humour in the show and underneath it all is the metaphor for a journey. We are all moving from station to station. It’s how we get there and our interactions with one another that gives us that singular purpose.”
Audiences can go along for the ride when Jasper Station takes the stage at the Powerhouse Theatre nightly from Feb. 22 to 25 and Feb. 28 to March 4 at 7:30 p.m. Matinée performances are on Sunday, Feb. 26 and Saturday, March 4 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the Ticket Seller. Call 250-549-7469 or order online at www.ticketseller.ca.