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Answering some of life’s mysteries, and posing one

Rachel Chin as Colleen and John Settle as Victor rehearse a scene for the upcoming production of When The Reaper Calls. [Justin Bastin / Submitted]

Is there life after death? Is it better to prepare for that eventuality now, or just grab onto life and enjoy the ride? Two diametrically opposed views are played for suspense and a whole lot of laughs in When The Reaper Calls, the upcoming production from the Guelph Little Theatre.

The play introduces us to Victor and Harlan, two young philosophy professors who have been friends, rivals and pranksters since their college days. But now Harlan has become a Stoic who has adopted a strict unemotional regimen in preparation for the afterlife, while Victor has turned into a wild hedonist who believes that “when you’re dead, you’re dead” and intends to squeeze every drop of pleasure from each fleeting moment. While they are vacationing with their long-suffering wives at a remote cottage on the coast of British Columbia, Victor sets up a trick to prove to Harlan the falseness of his philosophy, but the trick goes murderously wrong and … well, what follows keeps audiences on the edge of their seats, or as much as laughing allows.

“It’s a mystery that keeps you guessing – you won’t be able to figure it out, but it all makes sense in the end,” said director Doug Feggans.

A comedy-thriller, When The Reaper Calls pushes more than a few boxes.

“It’s suspenseful … and “we’re trying to find all of the comedic moments,” he said.

The play is the work of playwright, screenwriter and librettist Peter Colley, whose early career began as playwright-in-residence at the Grand Theatre, London, Ontario. He has written extensively for the Blyth Festival. When the Reaper Calls made its debut at  the Gryphon Theatre in Barrie in 1991 and has since gone on to be staged in nine countries.

“It’s been very well received around the world,” said Feggans. “I think the audience is going to love it.

“The cast is amazing,” he added of the five actors who bring the story to life.

For this production, Victor Pierce is played by John Settle and wife Dora Pierce by Christena Jackson. Rival Harlan Brandstater is portrayed by GLT veteran Ken Cameron, with Rachel Chin as his wife, Colleen Brandstater. The fifth member of the cast, a young, inexperienced police investigator, Officer McGuire, is played by GLT newcomer Amy Rechtshaffen.

Long involved in community theatre, Feggans joined GLT when he moved to Guelph about three years ago.

“There are lots of talented people here.”

Prior to arriving in Guelph, Feggans was in Mississauga, where he still remains active with theatre groups. It’s a love affair that dates back to his high school years when he took up acting.

“I think theatre is really important. That’s really true in schools, for young people, as it teaches them so much … that’s useful in later life.

“I know it changed my life, and my whole family’s life,” he added, noting his wife has also long been involved. She, in fact, serves as the producer of When The Reaper Calls.

With the show set to open in two weeks, it’s getting down to crunch time for cast and crew. Renovations underway at the theatre, they’ll have just a little time to get some full stage rehearsals under their belts.

“It’ll be busy, but it’s going really well.”

There’s also a bit of added pressure in the form of knowing the playwright, Colley, will be attending the February 2 matinee performance. Colley, who splits his time between Toronto and Los Angeles, is currently working in New York on his latest production, Cagney.

The Guelph Little Theatre production of When The Reaper Calls runs with 8 p.m. shows on January 23-25 and January 30-February 1, and 2 p.m. matinees January 26 and February 2 at the GLT venue, 176 Morris St., Guelph.  Tickets are $22 or $19 for seniors 60-plus, available online.

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