A party of pals

The people at PAL Place are a pretty classy lot. PAL stands for Performing Arts Lodge, a 205-unit apartment building located on The Esplanade in downtown Toronto. Its tenants are all Generation-CARP theatre people, some retired, others still doing some work. Their rent is geared to their income.

Last June, PAL held an unusual party in honour of the brothers Davis — Murray and Donald — and their sister, Barbara Chilcott. She’s the only survivor of this acting family. It was they who began the Crest Theatre in the 1950s and ran it for a decade and a half. In his will Donald Davis left $10,000 to PAL.

The party was organized to officially designate an area of PAL Place The Crest Theatre Green Room. A permanent display of Crest Theatre memorabilia testified to the importance of the Crest Theatre in the evolution of Canadian theatre.

But what made the PAL party such a great success was the turnout of theatre people, over and above those who live at PAL. It was like a Who’s Who of Canadian theatre, and virtually everyone could recall some professional experience at the Crest.

And they came from near and far. Actor Bill Brydon ca from New Jersey, Joseph Shaw from Stratford, Douglas Campbell from Montreal, Ted Follows from Kitchener, David Gardner from Sutton, Toby Tarnow from New Hampshire. Playwright Bernard Slade came from Cape Cod where he and his wife Jill Foster are building a home. Producer Billy Freedman and onetime Crest publicist David Palmer came all the way from England.

From the Toronto area, guests included actresses Eleanor Beecroft, Jackie Burroughs, Corinne Conley, Charmion King, Barbara Franklin, Joyce Gordon, Dawn Greenhalgh, Araby Lockhart and naturally, Barbara Chilcott. Toronto actors present included Chris Wiggins, Sandy Webster, Sean Mulcahy, Jack Creley, Grant Cowan, Tom Harvey, Eric House, Ken James and Arch McDonald. Also there were onetime Telegram critic Ron Evans and Bonnie Karr, widow of Toronto Star critic Jack Karr.

Not to be outdone were the PAL residents who turned up. They included Jack Duffy and his wife Marilyn, actor Paul Soles, agent Dora Clarke, publicist Mary Joliffe, actor Roy Wordsworth, who is president of PAL, plus a distinguished recent arrival at PAL, Maureen Forrester.

In his welcoming remarks, by the way, Roy Wordsworth announced PAL’s long-term goal of establishing PAL annexes across Canada, probably starting with Vancouver.

There were also such assorted guests as musicians Howard Cable, Gordon Kushner and Bobby Herriot, critics Robert Fulford and Herbert Whittaker and lawyer Norman Griesdorf, who has represented many theatre people.

For a couple of hours prior to touring the building, numerous pleasant PAL volunteers walked about the room, serving the guests wine and nibbles. And then there were the speeches which were anything but dry and dull.

Douglas Campbell pretty well set the tone as he stood before the crowded room, peered down imperiously at the assembled guests and said: “God, you’re all so old.”

Bernard Slade spoke engagingly of his Crest experience and his battles with the CBC over a telecast of one of his earliest plays. Incidentally, Slade has written a sequel to his smash hit play, Same Time Next Year. This one is called Same Time Another Year, and has already been presented, among other places, at Stage West in Edmonton and in London, England.

David Gardner got big laughs by reminiscing about his Crest days, particularly the time when he had to go with virtually no notice — from a minor role in Othello to playing the title role.

The always-charming Charmion King talked about her early experiences with the Straw Hat Players (the summer theatre company founded by the Davises even before they invaded Toronto) and also about the Crest.

The evening’s final speaker was Herbert Whittaker, the dean of Canadian theatre critics, who had in fact directed many of these Canadian artists even before the Crest in productions at the University of Toronto. He spoke authoritatively about the key role the Crest had played in the history of theatre in Canada. And to top off the evening’s festivities, the peerless Maureen Forrester accompanied by a guitarist sang two familiar songs: Summertime and Over the Rainbow. Earlier I spoke to Maureen who had moved into PAL only a few weeks before. Her reason for the move was easy enough to understand: she felt comfortable living among other performing artists.