Perhaps a hometown audience is the hardest to play to.
You think they know all your foibles. Mary-Jo Dionne pauses her banter a couple of times to bend and breathe. Then she deftly strolls the stage with a story only she can tell.
Dionne brought her one-woman fringe show, ‘Glowing: A Reproduction Production,’ to Wolfville recently. The one-time Kings County resident filled the Al Whittle Theatre with old friends and classmates from West Kings District High School.
In person, Dionne is positive, bubbly – dare I add blonde to that mix? Those descriptors belie the serious topics she makes jokes about for her audience. Turning your life upside down to get pregnant at 40 and then getting a cancer diagnosis are huge life challenges. We laugh despite the diagnosis.
A melanoma survivor already, Dionne was going through the turmoil of fertility challenges and then a difficult pregnancy when she found the cancer again. At seven-months-pregnant, while other women are buying cloth diapers, Dionne has to decide whether she should go through with a potentially life-saving amputation. She certainly proves that sometimes comedic inspiration can come from dark places. Certainly what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
As she’s coping with morning sickness 24/7, Dionne is remembering an old West Kings boyfriend who’d talked to her about the glow that emanates from pregnant women. That old comment in the midst of her situation helped spawn the one-woman show — that is after her daughter was born safe and sound.
First, the former Greenwood resident recalls nine months of barfing. Dionne even had the bad luck to throw up once in some bushes inhabited by a skunk. No relief there! She thinks it can't get any worse than all-day ‘morning’ sickness, but she’s wrong.
The audience sits tight knowing her touching journey must turn out positively. Daughter Juju, 8, is sitting in the front row with Dionne’s mom.
She has lived in Vancouver for the past two decades and it was six years ago that Dionne presented the show for the first time at the Vancouver Fringe Festival. It was a popular hit. Then, in 2014, she took it to the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, where the Winnipeg Free Press called it "an artfully conceived comedic romp."
She says she’s revived it several more times out west, but decided to bring the show home for one night en route to England. At Oxford University this summer, Dionne is going to adapt it as a screenplay, along with a cohort of other writers.
“Before I go and get immersed in it,” she said, “it felt right to take it to the East Coast. I’m here because at this point in my career I’m asking what’s next.”
Dionne is experienced at stand-up comedy, but she is also an award-winning writer. She's a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and experienced in the advertising world. Three years ago, her TEDx Talk was deemed a ‘crowd favourite’ and last year she was named Vancouver's YWCA Woman of Distinction in Arts and Culture.
But when you chat with her, Dionne is most proud of the two girls she birthed at 40 and 43. Her efforts to give back to the universe are also evident. Anyone who bought an online ticket to the show in Wolfville got a request to bring donations — and there was an overflowing table full.
Dionne credits her mother for teaching her philanthropy by example. In 2015, she was further inspired by motherhood to structure her charitable efforts, with from help the VanCity Community Foundation. Primarily, her aim has been to provide resources to assist children living in poverty, and children fighting critical illness.
From her perspective now, Dionne is motivated, she says, to show her daughters what is possible. They have a fine second-generation mother/educator. It’s no accident that as the audience leaves the theatre there is a handmade sign with a quote from Mother Teresa: go home and love your child.
Former Advertiser and Register reporter Wendy Elliott lives in Wolfville.