Even though her acclaimed novel is 27 years old, author Ann-Marie MacDonald believes Fall on Your Knees is having a resurgence among younger people because there’s something timeless about the story that will appeal to teens and people in their 20s.

“Often the awakening of sexuality, creativity and artistry are connected,” she told Capital Current. “That’s a youthful engine, and that’s what drives the story. That’s the kind of energy that’s considered dangerous as well, at all times including our own.”

The National Arts Centre will stage an adaptation of the critically acclaimed and international bestselling 1996 novel Fall On Your Knees in two, concurrent three-hour-long performances from March 10 to March 25.

Fall on Your Knees earned MacDonald the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book, the Canadian Authors Association Award for Fiction along with many other accolades.

Described by the NAC as an “iconoclastic novel” that “chronicles three generations of the Piper family,” MacDonald’s story moves between “haunted Cape Breton Island, through the battle fields of World War One, to the emerging jazz scene of New York City and into the lives of four unforgettable sisters.”

Youth appeal matters in the theatre world.

According to a study conducted by Nanos Research in October 2022, people 18 to 34 attend the fewest number of live theatre productions in Canada, compared to older age groups. MacDonald said in the case of Fall On Your Knees, however, “there’s a whole lot more young people in the audience and I think that’s because they’ve kind of claimed the book.”

The theatrical adaptation of the story premiered in Toronto in January, had a run in Halifax in February, and heads to London, Ont., following the Ottawa performances.

“Often the awakening of sexuality, creativity and artistry are connected. That’s a youthful engine, and that’s what drives the story. That’s the kind of energy that’s considered dangerous as well, at all times including our own.”

Ann-Marie MacDonald, author of ‘Fall On Your Knees’

At the time she wrote the book, there was little to no representation of queer female protagonists in literature and in theatre, MacDonald said.

“I had written a play called Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) before I wrote this book, and it’s now on all kinds of course lists. But at the time, I had to overcome the reluctance of theatres to produce this play because there was a same-sex kiss and same-sex flirtation in it.”

When Fall On Your Knees was published nearly three decades ago, it caught the attention of renowned American TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who selected it for her famed book club.

Ann-Marie MacDonald (left) and the play’s director Alisa Palmer (right) pose in the lobby of Neptune Theatre in Halifax on opening night. [Photo courtesy Ann-Marie MacDonald]

Robyn Stevan, a longtime fan of the book and MacDonald’s writing, heaped praise on the author for her keen insights into the human condition.

“She’s fearless, and that’s what’s so compelling about her stories,” said Stevan. “They just cut right to the core of human struggles and passions and needs, without commenting too much on the characters in a critical way.”

Stevan said the theatre production went above and beyond what she had expected when she saw it performed in Toronto in January.

“It was such an emotional journey reading the book, and so before seeing the play, I was going, ‘How could they possibly take this mammoth, marathon of a story that’s so complex and bring it to the stage?’ And I have to say, I was so impressed with the company of actors and the way they took the story and brought it to life.”

Director Alisa Palmer and playwright Hannah Moscovitch — who adapted Fall on Your Knees — worked closely with MacDonald to bring the story to the stage and translate it in a way that is true to the book, but also in a way that creates something new and exciting.

“It’s high drama,” said MacDonald. “There’s music and there’s a love story and all kinds of horrible things happen, but people survive ultimately. People survive to tell the tale. And I think it’s very much about coming of age and growing up, and it’s about the power of the imagination.

“All young people go through that. And if we get lucky, we get older and we never forget that.”

Tickets for the Ottawa shows are being sold at a discounted price for people under 30. Kondwani Mwase, the NAC’s executive director of audience engagement, says the Under30 program was set up to help the arts sector return better than ever after the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said that from a financial perspective, the pandemic was an especially difficult time for many different communities, including young people, “so the Under30 program is meant to target that specific audience segment, to get them excited and engaged in terms of coming to see shows.”