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Peterborough Ontario's New Stages presents Staged Readings at Market Hall Performing Arts Centre

Staged Reading of Rick Chafe's 'The Secret Mask'. The Arts Scene in Peterborough has got it right

Credit: Joe Szekeres. L-R: Jade O'Keeffe, Megan Murphy, Randy Read, Sergio Di Zio, Mark Wallace (Director and Artistic Director of New Stages

Joe Szekeres

The Performing Arts are in good hands with Peterborough Ontario’s New Stages

On Sunday, May 7, I had the opportunity to attend a Staged Reading of Rick Chafe’s ‘The Secret Mask’ as part of Peterborough, Ontario’s New Stages Professional Theatre Company. The reading was held in the gorgeous Market Hall Performing Arts Centre, 140 Charlotte Street.

According to a recent email I received from Megan Murphy, a Board member of New Stages: “Readings have been an integral part of the New Stages landscape since its inception some twenty-five years ago.”
This staged reading of ‘The Secret Mask’ was a sometimes funny but often emotionally moving story directed with a compassionate understanding by New Stages Artistic Director, Mark Wallace. A question-and-answer session followed the performance for those who wished to stay. All of us learned the cast rehearsed from 1:30 pm on Sunday. Scripts were sent to the cast to be reviewed, but all director and blocking notes were given in one rehearsal.

This may seem quite a lot of work for one day and one performance; however, the assembled cast of performers Randy Read, Megan Murphy, Sergio Di Zio and Jade O’Keeffe told Chafe’s story with much compassion for the subject material.

Playwright Rick Chafe included a programme note about his father having a stroke that resulted in aphasia and memory loss in September 2002. Over the following three months, Chafe’s siblings and he took turns flying out to Vancouver from their respective homes across Canada to help their father with his rehabilitation and eventual relocation. Many of the events in ‘The Secret Mask’ are based on his siblings’ experiences with their father over this period.

What was intriguing about Chafe’s play that was shared with us in the Q and A? This was one of those rare plays I have seen where the characters shared no connection at all as the story began. In ‘The Secret Mask’, we are introduced to Ernie (Randy Read) who suffers from aphasia because of his recent stroke. Ernie’s speech-language rehabilitator Mae (Megan Murphy) patiently works with Ernie to help him regain his speech through all kinds of word and memory games and lessons.

Ernie’s son, George (Sergio Di Zio) shows up to see his father who walked out on him 40 years ago. Ernie has no recollection at all of having a son. George experiences his own personal troubles. His marriage is on the rocks and their son is placed in the middle of his parents’ squabble. Jade O’Keeffe read the role of a sundry of minor characters crucial to the plot.

In her email connection with me, Murphy wrote about how an alchemy happens between the actor and the script page and the audience and the rehearsal/performance process.

I concur most heartedly with her on this statement as I was fascinated to see where ‘The Secret Mask’ would take me and ultimately explain the significance of the title. When it’s finally revealed to the audience, it’s a heartwarming story about family relationships and the struggles they face together through life.

This staged reading was a prime example of the meaning of ‘ensemble work’. Within a rehearsal span of six hours of preparation in one day, this wonderful cast immersed themselves right in the heart of the story. Discussion in the question-and-answer period provided some important context. Several audience members stayed around for a few moments to speak with the cast.

Peterborough’s Market Hall Performing Arts Centre was about ¾ - 4/5 full with an audience who were keen to hear a good story. I was most impressed to see this turnout on a Sunday night when the Leafs were playing.
In the winter, I travelled here to review ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ directed by Randy Read with an appealing performance by Steve Ross. It was worth the trip to Peterborough on a cold winter February night.

New Stages will conclude its 2023 season with another staged reading of Lynn Nottage’s ‘Sweat’ with Christopher Allen, Beau Dixon, Andrew Chown, Catherine Fitch, Tony Munch, and Ordena Stephens-Thompson. The performance date is Sunday, June 11 at 7:30 pm at Peterborough’s Market Hall Performing Arts Centre, 140 Charlotte Street. For further information, please visit

To learn more about New Stages Professional Theatre Company, please visit

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