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The musical Chairs 

The Newfoundland drama *An Audience of Chairs* takes you in for a close look at artistry, motherhood and mental illness.

Maura (Carolina Bartczak) in a rare moment of calm in An Audience of Chairs. - A71 ENTERTAINMENT
  • Maura (Carolina Bartczak) in a rare moment of calm in An Audience of Chairs.

An Audience of Chairs
Opens Friday, March 22
Cineplex Park Lane, 5657 Spring Garden Road

I n Joan Clark's 2006 novel An Audience of Chairs, a bipolar Cape Bretoner named Moranna reflects on her life without her children, taken by her husband in the wake of her breakdown, and the loss of her gifts as an actor, all gone thanks to a mental illness she has struggled to control.

Deanne Foley's 2018 film adaptation, written by Rosemary House, tweaks a few of the details: She's now Maura (Carolina Bartczak), a pianist in Newfoundland. The rest remains the same. We see her frustration with her absent husband, the seeds of her breakdown planted when life prevents her from practicing her art and how that breakdown puts her children in jeopardy.

"It absolutely challenges the idea of motherhood," says Foley from her home in St. John's. "People who have read the screenplay have had a very negative response to Maura: Good mothers don't make bad decision you know? How can we possibly put our children's lives in danger? I think it was important in the first five minutes that we see Maura loves her children. Once she starts having a full-scale breakdown, I hope that the audience remembers that there's something within her that's causing her to make these terrible decisions."

Mental illness aside, the film also addresses the expectation of women to stay home with the kids while men thrive in their careers—in the film, Maura's reporter husband calls to say he'll be gone another month, meaning her upcoming symphony audition is toast.

"That also was important for me to explore—the demands of motherhood, how her career has been put on the back burner," says Foley. "Somehow his opportunities are more important than hers. A lot of women, whether you're in the arts or in business or regardless of your career, you're constantly juggling the demands of motherhood."

Bartczak, a Canadian actor who's appeared in X-Men: Apocalypse and the miniseries The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, has a great many things to juggle here, from mental state to aging 20 years to convincingly playing the piano like a virtuoso, across a 19-day shoot in Newfoundland and Ontario.

"That was another challenge in casting—wouldn't it be amazing if we found an actress who was an amazing concert pianist in a former life," Foley jokes. "In the film Maura plays Tchaikovsky, Bach, Chopin. Carolina took piano lessons for six weeks; we chose specific bars of the music for her to learn for onscreen. There were more technical pieces we used hand doubles for. She had to learn how to sit at the piano, where to place her hands."

An Audience of Chairs debuted locally at the 2018 Atlantic International Film Festival—Foley also directed a segment of festival entry Hopeless Romantic—and opens this week in Park Lane. Theatrical releases for small films are ever rarer these days.

"We are kind of the lost child in film and TV right now. Like, 'You're a feature filmmaker?'" she says. "When I started out feature filmmakers were a big deal. Now it's flipped—all the money's in television. I think the struggle's still there, it's really hard to make feature films in Canada."

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