If it wasn’t for a Passover dinner, Torontonian Liane Balaban, 30, may have never become an actor in an acclaimed Canadian movie and gone on to appear in Hollywood feature films.
Balaban met producer Julia Sereny at a relative’s seder. Sereny invited Balaban – who had studied drama in high school but had no plans to pursue acting as a profession – to audition for the lead role in the 1999 film, New Waterford Girl, which she was producing. Balaban landed the role and went on to garner a Special Jury Citation at the 24th annual Toronto International Film Festival for her performance.
After acting in movies for more than 10 years, Balaban is now making her stage debut in Necessary Angel’s Divisadero: a performance, at Theatre Passe Muraille’s Mainspace.
Balaban, who’s been living in Los Angeles, has come back home to star as Claire in Michael Ondaatje’s adaptation of his Governor General’s Award-winning novel Divisadero, directed by the company’s artistic director, Daniel Brooks.
Balaban considers it a great privilege to be able to work closely with both Brooks and Ondaatje, who’s perhaps best known for writing The English Patient. She met Brooks through his brother, Adam, who wrote and directed Definitely, Maybe, a Universal Pictures film in which she acted.
“One of the most amazing things about working on this project is that I get to be part of the process of creating the play itself with Michael and Daniel because it is a brand-new work,” she says.
“Being in a play is something I have always wanted to do. I never went to theatre school or had that experience of being in a play that every other single actor I’ve ever worked with has. I knew it would be amazing to explore a character and a script so in depth over such a long period of time because in film and TV the process is really accelerated. So, I wanted to have that chance to go deeper.”
The play pools music, performance and storytelling. “Divisadero is the story of a family growing up on a farm in California, which gets ripped apart by tragedy and what happens in the aftermath of that event,” Balaban says.
“It is about a woman looking back on her life, telling the story of what happened [and] the question is, is she telling the truth or is it her fabrication? I play Claire, one of the sisters in the family that lives on the farm.”
Balaban hopes the story will move audiences. “One of the themes of the play is drawn from a Nietzsche quote, ‘We have art so that we shall not be destroyed by the truth.’ Art saves us and heals us, so if the audience is moved or touched by this piece of art in some way that is a triumph.”
The cast also includes Maggie Huculak, Tom McCamus, Amy Rutherford and Justin Rutledge, a Juno-nominated musician who composed the music for the production.
Balaban has been seen in many films, including Last Chance Harvey, starring Dustin Hoffman; Seven Times Lucky, Saint Jude, World Traveler, The Trotsky and One Week, and on television in the CBC miniseries Above & Beyond, and in St. Urbain’s Horseman. She has an Internet show aimed at tweens, Cranky Town, produced with the National Film Board of Canada,
The play Divisadero: a performance runs from Feb. 8 to 20 at Theatre Passe Muraille, 416-504-7529, or visit www.necessaryangel.com.