Deborah Castrilli will play Viola Desmond in the world premiere of Andrea Scott’s Controlled Damage at the Neptune Theatre this February.
Deborah Castrilli will play Viola Desmond in the world premiere of Andrea Scott’s Controlled Damage at the Neptune Theatre this February.

November is a time of remembrance. While the month honours the Canadian men and women of the armed forces, a little closer to home the month also marks a chapter in Nova Scotia’s history that should also not be forgotten.

On November 8, 1946, Viola Desmond was arrested in a New Glasgow, Nova Scotia movie theatre for refusing to give up her seat in a section reserved for white patrons. Her courage sparked the beginning of the end of segregation in the province.

To mark the 73rd anniversary of Desmond’s landmark stand against racism, in a media release, Halifax’s Neptune Theatre revealed the casting for the world premiere of Canadian playwright Andrea Scott’s Controlled Damage.

“Since my arrival, Neptune has been working to bring stories to the stage that are more reflective of the community we serve,” says Neptune’s artistic director Jeremy Webb in the release. “This play is significant in both a local and national context, and Viola Desmond’s courage was an important step for human rights in this country.”

Set to open at Neptune in February next year, Controlled Damage explores Desmond’s life and how her act of bravery started a ripple effect throughout society. The play shines a light on how her actions impacted different cultural groups in the province and the continuing effect of those actions over the past 70 years.

“Viola Desmond committed a small act in a small town motivating massive, historical change,” says playwright Andrea Scott. “She tried to take on the system and lost. Her loss is our gain; she started a revolution without taking off her white gloves and took a stand by sitting down.”

Halifax actor Deborah Castrilli will play the role of Viola Desmond. Castrilli was last seen on the Neptune Theatre stage in Mamma Mia!, The Color Purple, and Cinderella.

“It has been 73 years since Viola Desmond refused to give up her seat in the Roseland Theatre,” said Castrilli. ”She was a woman like me, trying to exercise her freedom to live the life she wanted – a right that she was denied.”

Castrilli goes onto say that while much time has passed since Desmond took her stand, things have not changed as drastically as we would like to think, with women of colour still facing struggles due to prejudice and discrimination today.

“It is an honour and a privilege to know that I will get to embody such a fierce Canadian icon – one who became known simply for living her truth. I strive to do that every day. I hope this story continues to inspire others to do the same,” she says.

Joining Castrilli in this production in association with b current performing arts, are veteran musician, actor and Cherry Brook’s own Jeremiah Sparks who makes his return to the Neptune stage alongside Ryan Allen. Local actors Mary Fay Coady, Nathan Simmons, Cyndi Cain, Lesley Smith, and Sarah Richardson are joined by Meghan Swaby, and Taylor Olsen who make their Neptune debut.

Controlled Damage plays Neptune Theatre’s Scotiabank Stage (1593 Argyle St, Halifax) February 4-23. Visit neptunetheatre.com for tickets and information.

Editor’s Note (15 November): This article was updated to correctly reflect Ryan Allen as returning to Neptune Theatre. The original version incorrectly identified him as making his Neptune debut.