Arts & Culture

Act of Faith explores disability and healing

By Lorraine Graves

Published 3:22 PDT, Thu April 11, 2019

Richmond-based Rena Cohen lives and breathes the new play she is directing at the Cultch.

“Act of Faith” shows the challenges when a member of a tight community of disabled friends suddenly becomes able-bodied.

She is sure it is an act of God. Others are not so sure.

Does she lose her place in her tightly-knit community?

These are the issues “Act of Faith” explores. While one specific case sparked the play, the experience of seemingly spontaneous regeneration of lost abilities has happened before.

“It was a fairly controversial event, in our community. It inspired the project but it’s not autobiographical,” she says.

“Janet Munsil is an extraordinary Canadian playwright. She was artist-in-residence at the University of Victoria’s Centre for Spirituality. There were a lot of different people’s stories that informed this play. We tend to think it's rare but it’s not all that rare,” says director Cohen.

“While the different belief systems are treated with respect, we don’t shy away from controversy and conflict in the play. It’s also really funny,” Cohen says.

Realwheels Theatre Company does not just perform plays about people with disabilities. The company works with actors and behind-the-scenes people who live with a range of disabilities.

“One of the things we have is an integrated cast of people with disabilities and able-bodied actors working as all professionals working together. We look to support emerging artists with disabilities, at the same time, we like the integrated experience,” says the play’s director and Realwheels’ artistic director, Cohen.

Cohen cites some examples: “Emily Brook who lives with paraplegia is a lead in our play. This is her first professional gig. It’s great to see her blossom in this opportunity. Our assistant director, Caspar Ryan, is a Richmond-based videographer and is a person with disability. I’m mentoring him in directing.”

Cohen loves living in Terra Nova, close to the dyke where she can wander down near sunset to take in the views and watch the tourists doing the same. But, for now, those relaxed walks are on hold as she prepares “Act of Faith” for its world premiere in the historic theatre at the Cultch (April 11 to 20).

Tickets: 604-251-1766, online at or at the Cultch, 1895 Venables St., Vancouver.

ASL Interpretation at the 8 p.m. performance on April 16.

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