“We’re a married couple, who play an old married couple on stage.”
That’s Denise Comeau Darnel and her husband, Barrie Darnel, talking about themselves and their roles as Nunzio and Emma Cristano in the upcoming Rivercity Players production of Over The River and Through The Woods.
The real-life couple met almost 25 years ago during the production of Toronto, Mississippi and a year later played Mortimer & Elaine in Arsenic & Old Lace where they agreed to extra rehearsals for the upcoming kissing scene. It was during that private rehearsal that Denise asked Barrie if they were supposed to feel anything.
“Because I certainly do!” she said – and a match was made.
As she worked her way through the various positions of the Rivercity Players crew over the years – stage hand, stage manager, technical crew, assistant director – Denise felt drawn to directing. She realized how the process of guiding the whole cast and getting the play to look just right was the place for her heart.
“I was eager to work hard to put a play on. My job of directing a play begins a year before. I start by reading a lot of plays to find the one that most appeals to me, then there’s the audition process, and then rehearsals begin. The whole process is the passion for me; the task of getting the play to the audience is what I enjoy.”
For husband Barrie, the fun is in the acting.
“We all have a bit of ham in us,” he says with a sparkle. “While there’s reward in the journey of developing the character, I ‘specially love the fun of being there for the audience, feeling them react, hearing them laugh. I’m all about the run itself [of the show].”
They have been in many shows together, often where Barrie acted and Denise directed or managed the stage crew.
After a number of years directing, Denise took to the stage again in 2004 to rediscover the magic of the limelight. Jeff Hyslop was directing The Matchmaker (which Hello Dolly is based on) and Denise was cast as Dolly Levi.
“I was nervous. It had been 10 years and I wanted to regain perspective and take the time to revisit stage fright, which might be something every actor has that little fear of. I’m glad for that, because that energy – the fear – can be put to use elsewhere. It’s the practice of knowing what to do with the fear, how to channel it, and realize that there’s a whole team on stage who rely on each other. If there’s fear, you have to give it new energy for the others and support each other in the cast.”
Developing trust is the biggest thing says Denise.
“We have to trust the team, trust each other, and sometimes that’s hard to do. After all, being onstage is like being naked.”
And it’s been another decade since Denise was on stage, tho she has directed a lot of plays since.
Barrie has played a number of roles, sometimes directed by Denise, and he’s thrilled they’re playing a married couple in this current production.
“We get more rehearsal time in! And we are having fun. We are enjoying it, and looking forward to taking it (the play) to the North Island Zone Festival in Qualicum this May 23.”
“Our characters love and adore each other, grandson included. Tengo famiglia!” says Barrie (Nunzio). “This play tugs so much at my heartstrings because my actual grandson is just about to move away, and it’s hard to take.”
Upon concluding the interview, the couple broke out in song:
“When the moon hits your eye
Like a big pizza pie –
And after that, Barrie only said, “sugar” whereupon Denise kissed him on the cheek.
Over The River and Through The Woods opens tomorrow night at the Rivercity Players Stage at 1080 Hemlock St.
Nick’s (Andy Peterson) grandparents will do their best to keep their grandson from taking a promotion on the other side of the country, including inviting a beautiful dinner guest to the family’s weekly Sunday dinner. Two of the grandparents are played by Barrie Darnell and Denise Comeau-Darnell. The other set of grandparents (played by Gail Tisdale as Emma, and Stu Morrison as Frank) host each week’s dinner, where the four old-timers love to talk, debating at which grocery store a certain pointless anecdote took place, or employing extremely circular deduction skills to remember who starred in High Noon.
- Tickets are $15 and available at Impressions, Comfort Zone Foods, or Campbell River Laundromat in the Tyee Plaza. Play dates are May 1-3, May 4 matinee and May 7-10.