Island playwright’s ode to older women

When I’m 64

Where: Merlin’s Sun Home Theatre, 1983 Fairfield Rd.

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When: Saturday, two shows 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Tickets: $10 limited tickets available. 250-598-7488 or timgosley@telus.net">timgosley@telus.net

A Jesuit-trained counsellor from the Comox Valley has sparked interest with his new play about the struggles and triumphs of older women.

Novice playwright Steve Hill (who writes as J.S. Hill) is the author of When I’m 64. A pair of staged readings at Merlin’s Sun Home Theatre on Saturday are almost sold out.

Last summer, the 61-year-old’s play had a successful staged reading at Victoria’s Shakespeare by the Sea. And noted Canadian playwright Sharon Pollack has praised the script, deeming it a “charming” and “entertaining” play.

Theatre Inconnu invited Hill to bring When I’m 64 to Merlin’s Sun Home Theatre after an Inconnu board member was favourably impressed by the Shakespeare by the Sea performance. Shakespeare by the Sea, meanwhile, has invited the 90-minute play back for a repeat performance in July. Hill hopes this will be its first fully fledged production.

When I’m 64 follows the lives of a half-dozen women, all age 64. They’re a diverse bunch, including a homeless person, a widow, a dragon boater and an executive. The women discuss struggles such as battling cancer, Internet dating, widowhood, infidelity — as well revealing their capacity for finding for love, joy and meaning in later life.

“I do admire the strength of resilience of each one of these women,” Hill said. “I admire their struggle to find hope and their success in finding hope, despite the shadows of some of the hopelessness, the brokenness and betrayals going on around them.”

Hill said his experiences as chaplain at St. Joseph’s General Hospital in Comox informed the writing of When I’m 64. As a counsellor for the sick, dying and bereaved (a position from which he’s just retired), Hill spent years listening to people in intimate one-on-one conversations.

The Montreal-born playwright, educated in theology by Jesuits at the University of Toronto’s Regis College, previously worked as a spiritual director at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre of Spirituality in Guelph, Ont.

Hill also has an early background in acting. In the mid-’70s he performed with Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre, Alberta Theatre Projects and Theatre London. In the early 1980s he worked in London’s West End, taking such roles as a tap-dancing footballer in the original U.K. production of Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Hill also acted in film, taking smaller roles in Catherine Deneuve’s vampire film The Hunger (he played her first victim), Sean Connery’s Never Say Never Again and Vincent Price’s Bloodbath at the House of Death.

Back then, he originally intended to take a break from showbiz for a few months by working as a spiritual counsellor. But Hill found the work so rewarding, he never looked back — until now.

Hill initially had qualms about being a man writing about the intensely personal experiences of women. However, most of his feedback has been positive. One woman who read the play even mistook Hill’s gender before meeting him.

“She said, ‘Oh my god, are you the playwright? I just lost a bet. I bet my partner only a woman could have written this play.’ ”

achamberlain@timescolonist.com

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