MIDNIGHT SUN by Maja Ardal, directed by Andy McKim and Patricia Vanstone, with Paul Braunstein, Matthew Edison, Nicky Guadagni, Holly Lewis, Jeff Madden and Kari Matchett. Presented by Tarragon Theatre and the National Arts Centre at the Tarragon Mainspace (30 Bridgman). Previews to Sunday (January 21), opens Tuesday (January 23) and runs to February 25, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday and Sunday 2:30 pm (no matinee January 20). $23-$29, Sunday pwyc, previews $16. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNNN
ingenues have always been actorNicky Guadagni's speciality, but Maja Ardal has given her a chance to change all that.In Ardal's new play, Midnight Sun, Guadagni plays Hildur, the stern Icelandic materfamilias who doesn't approve of the mixing of two cultures when 2,000 U.S. soldiers descend on the tiny village of Strandvik in 1942 and are welcomed by the town's jazz-loving, filmgoing young people.
A curious blend of bitterness, warmth and humour, Hildur is an impassive though unpredictable figure and very different from Guadagni's younger roles -- Masha in a famous 70s production of The Seagull, for example, and 15 years later the adolescent Frankie in The Member Of The Wedding, both at the Tarragon.
"I've spent so much of my acting energy convincing people that I was an ingenue. Most often, I had to conform to a male director's presumptions about what young women are like.
"I envy today's young actors -- women like Tara Rosling, Liisa Repo-Martell and Kristen Thomson -- who can bring a different range to those roles."
The actor has shown up for the interview resplendent in muddy gum boots.
"According to Maja, they're part of the Icelandic national costume," she laughs while eating lunch in the Tarragon rehearsal space. "People wear them outdoors and thick woollen socks indoors. It's a cold northern country, like Canada. And because Hildur spends much of her time in the chicken coop, they're practical for another reason."
Guadagni loves playing a woman in a culture of fiercely independent females. They have no need, as one Icelandic character tells an American soldier, for a man to complete them.
"Maja's told us that the rate of illegitimacy is high in Iceland and that children are adored and never beaten. Facts like that explain why one of Hildur's daughters and her boyfriend can sleep together in Hildur's house and it's not seen to be out of the ordinary or immoral."
But uncovering the Icelandic temperament wasn't the easiest thing for Guadagni. Ardal, who as a child divided her time between Scotland and Iceland, invited the cast to her house to meet her parents.
"I'm a physical actor by nature," Guadagni admits. "In contrast, Maja's parents sat almost rooted to their chairs, their hands clasped on the table. But the explosive stuff that came from their mouths!" The performer demonstrates, using her hands to shoot flames from her lips.
"And I finally get to play the character roles I adored as a child," enthuses Guadagni, who's also played Shakespeare's Juliet and Ariel. "Don't laugh, but I was the one who always wanted to be Margaret Rutherford or Agnes Moorehead."