I'll always remember Gina Wilkinson in her fluffy, baby-blue, faux-fur winter coat; she looked like she'd just flung a flokati rug across her shoulders.
She carried it off with a zest and confidence that affirmed the colour and the material were just perfect - why would she even think about wearing anything else?
Gina died Thursday (December 30), a sudden loss that surprised many in the theatre community.
As soon as I heard about her death I pictured her at the streetcar stop in front of my co-op wearing that coat - she and her partner, Tom Rooney, used to live across the street from me - and recalled the chats we had as we waited for southbound cars.
I first saw Gina, a graduate of the National Theatre School, at Stratford in the 80s, but it was when she started working in Toronto productions that I got to know her.
How would I sum up her acting work? An emotional honesty, an electricity that kept audience's eyes glued to her, a sure comic timing and a full investment in every role she played.
She performed in TV and film, too, but I knew her best for her stage work.
I have fond recollections of her in George F. Walker's Criminals In Love, playing Gail, the worldly-wise, pragmatic 18-year-old who you know was going to solve all her family's problems; as Anna, a woman caught up in a passionate on/off affair in Patrick Marber's Closer; and as Stevie in Edward Albee's The Goat, forced to deal with the extraordinary fact that her husband was in love with a barnyard animal.
She was also memorable in a number of plays by Dave Carley, bringing her sexiness and intelligence to A View From The Roof, Two Ships Passing, Into and After You. There was a clear affinity between Dave's resonant scripts and Gina's interpretive skills.
Gina seemed interested in just about anything, always willing to try something new. I'd just gotten my first laptop computer when I went over to interview her for The Goat, and I spent some time after the talk proper showing her some keyboard shortcuts.
I guess she intended using them in writing her own scripts. Her first play, My Mother's Feet - witty, funny and sometimes quietly savage - dealt with a son trying to escape his demanding mother and her prosthetic feet.
A German production of My Mother's Feet offered Gina a chance to direct, a route she had begun at the 1997 Fringe. She directed around the country and two productions in Munich before receiving huge acclaim for Born Yesterday at the 2009 Shaw Festival. With this flawlessly executed, hysterically funny and ultimately moving staging, Gina the director suddenly came to the attention of a lot of people who only knew Gina the actor.
She followed it up with Half An Hour at Shaw, Faith Healer at Soulpepper, Wide Awake Hearts at Tarragon and would have directed Candida at Niagara-on-the-Lake this coming summer.
But I also saw the version of Marcel Aymé's Clérambard at George Brown Theatre last spring, with Gina directing the graduating class in a problematic script but injecting it with humour and a touch of puppetry to create a striking result.
It looked like the young people in that production were having a lot of fun, and I know that some of it came from Gina's involvement in the show; I imagine she brought her energy, cleverness and magic to rehearsal every day. I hope they appreciated what a gift they had in their midst.
Sadly, we've lost Gina, and the theatre community is a little less bright because of that.
If you are in Toronto and able to attend please gather to honour Gina on Monday January 24, 2010, 3:00 pm, Jane Mallett Theatre (27 Front E.) within the St Lawrence Centre for the Arts. 497 seats.