Theatre-lover Peter James on The Gladstone


Patrons leave The Gladstone after It's a Wonderful Life, Saturday Dec. 18. (Photo credit: Carolynne Burkholder)

Peter James is Twitter-obsessed sports fanatic, theatre-lover and journalist living in Ottawa.

Ottawa is a great city to be a live theatre enthusiast.

From the first-rate professional productions at the National Arts Centre and the Great Canadian Theatre Company, to the outstanding community troupe at Ottawa Little Theatre to the formidable student group at Carleton’s Sock ‘n’ Buskin Theatre Company, there is no shortage of places to watch a play and plenty of opportunity for thespians to perform.

One theatre that’s sadly been overlooked in recent years is The Gladstone. Converted from a truck repair garage into GCTC’s first home in 1982, the theatre has been operated in its current incarnation the past three years by Steve Martin. It’s a become a place for local professional actors to show off their talents.

Crowds have not met owner Martin’s expectations and he put the building on Gladstone Avenue near Preston Street on the market this fall. This year’s mini-season is still going ahead and their production of It’s a Wonderful Life wrapped up Saturday. Oscar Wilde’s classic The Importance of Being Earnest is set for February.

An admirer of live theatre ever since my mother bought season’s tickets to the Manitoba Theatre for Young People when I was a child growing up in Winnipeg, I’ve seen shows at most of Ottawa’s venues over the years. But like too many other theatre-lovers I’d ignored The Gladstone until this weekend when I attended It’s a Wonderful Life.

Walking up to the theatre, the Gladstone’s classic marquee brings patrons back to a time when live theatre was the thing to do for a night on the town. Once inside the small, yet charming lobby, it’s easy to see the work Martin had done to restore the building. It’s a comfortable space to rub elbows with other theatre goers, enjoy a pre-show drink at the bar or simply take advantage of the free volunteer-run coat check.

The theatre itself gives patrons an intimate atmosphere — even sitting in the back row feels like you’re right on top of the stage.

The production of It’s a Wonderful Life itself was superb. It was conceived as a show with a show. The audience was transported to the studios of a radio station and watched the cast perform the radio play. Aside from reading the script, director Teri Loretto-Valentik made sure there was enough action going behind the scenes — playful personality conflicts between the actors, microphones weren’t the proper height and funny signals to the production team — to keep the eyes entertained while the ears heard the heart-warming Christmas story.

Tony Palermo’s stage adaptation of Frank Capra’s iconic 1946 movie worked wonderfully with the simple set used for the show. Keeping true to the 1940s era, the sound effects were done manually and watching sound artist Karen Benoit do her work was entertaining unto itself.

The 236 seats were packed for Saturday’s matinee and the crowd got involved in the show “ooohing” and “ahhhing” on cue and joining the cast in singing Auld Lang Syne at the end of the show.

Located in the heart of Little Italy, The Gladstone is situated perfectly to give patrons a chance to enjoy a fine dinner and a show in one stop. (My favourite restaurant in the neighbourhood is Da Sergio on Preston).

There is no parking lot associated with the theatre and parking on Preston is often at a premium, so remember leave early enough so you’ll have time to find a spot.

Martin told the Ottawa Citizen when he put the building up for sale this fall that Ottawa “probably is a hockey city more than a theatre city.”

With The Importance of Being Earnest coming up soon, theatre fans have a chance to prove him wrong.

Thanks for the post Peter!

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