Broadway harks back to the golden age of musicals

Waiting for the Parade, Scenes from women on the "home front," by John Murrell. Directed by David Kerry Heefner. Off-Broadway's Hudson Guild Theater enhances its reputation for superior playmaking with the superbly acted United States premiere of "Waiting for the Parade." Canadian dramatist John Murrell has written a concerned and perceptive study of what life was like for five Calgary women during the World War II years of 1939-45. Although the events of the play concern some typical provincials of a then small Alberta city, Mr. Murrell writes with an honesty and sense of humanity that invest his observations with a universal quality.

Mr. Murrell's devices -- viewing the homefront war through women's eyes and in a sketch-like framework -- never strains dramatic credibility. "Waiting for the Parade" can be extremely funny or genuinely poignant. Mingling the mundane and the tragic, it always carries the appealing human touch.

In a program note, the author explains that he researched his subject by interviewing hundreds of people about their clearest wartime memories. Finding most of the women interviewees reluctant to respond, he came to believe that their experience was "so disturbing because their extreme physical distance from the horror of the war prevented them from ever coming to terms with it. . . .

"It is principally, though not entirely, on these memories, both painful and humorous, that my play is based. I invented the characters and their words, but their resilience, their wit and (to use a word that's now out of fashion) their heroism, they owe to the women of western Canada. And certainly many of the experiences of Calgary's women were common to millions of women on the 'home front' throughout the world."

Four of Mr. Murrell's characters engage in assorted volunteer activities. They roll bandages, assemble sewing kits, prepare refreshments, practice to entertain and send off the troops, perform blackout drill, and eventually await uncertainly the homecoming parade.

The volunteers include superpatriot Janet (Marti Maraden), the obnoxiously managerial group leader and wife of a two- timing news broadcaster; Eve (Mia Dillon), a young schoolteacher who counts Leslie Howard's death a personal loss and whose middle-aged husband is gung-ho for the lads to be off to war; Catherine (Roxanne Hart), an airman's wife whose factory canteen job leads to an extramarital affair; and widowed Margaret (Marge Redmond), one of whose sons is on North Atlantic convoy duty while the other goes to jail as a war protester.

German-born Marta (Jo Henderson), whose 65-year-old father is being detained as a pro-Nazi, is shunned by Janet but preserves her friendship with the other women.

"Waiting for the Parade" unfolds in a skillful blend of group scenes, dialogues, soliloquies, and occasional confrontations. Each development recalls familiar memories or reflects some facet of a receding era and its shared experiences. The effect of these experiences on the lives of the five women emerges graphically in the writing and vividly in the playing of an exceptional cast directed by David Kerry Heefner.

Period pop tunes and dances enliven the almost documentary quality of the reminiscence. The harmonious components of a firstrate production include Christina Weppner's costumes and multilevel s etting and Robby Monk's lighting.

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