Theatre New Brunswick productions at the Jubilee Theatre
Review by Sean McQuaid
Three girls and three guys. Sounds like the latest uninspired TV sitcom, or maybe the roster for an especially unambitious orgy. In actuality, though, it's a lazy reviewer's shorthand for the casts of Theatre New Brunswick's two latest touring productions: The Attic, The Pearls & Three Fine Girls and The Drawer Boy, respectively-and both shows make a convincing case for the creaky cliche about good things coming in threes.
The Attic, The Pearls & Three Fine Girls is a sharp, touching comedy about the simultaneously cohesive and corrosive nature of sibling relationships. The three Fine sisters, Jo-Jo (Sherry-Lee Hunter), Jayne (Mary Ellen MacLean) and "baby sister" Jelly (Shelley Wallace) are reunited as adults to bury their recently deceased father. Dad is just about the only thing that stays buried, though, as old loves, hates, resentments, rivalries, heirlooms and assorted childhood memories & family secrets are unearthed during the sisters' reunion.
Originally produced by Theatre Columbus and collaboratively composed by a clown car's worth of writers (Jennifer Brewin, Leah Cherniak, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Alisa Palmer and Martha Ross), TATP&TFG is a mercilessly funny and hauntingly insightful script; the love-hate relationships of the Fine sisters should strike at least one familiar chord with anyone who's ever been blessed (or cursed) with a sibling. It's a very human play, affectionately but honestly illuminating its characters, a play in which family is celebrated without being sanitized.
The TNB production's cast are all veterans of the physical theatre company Jest in Time, and it shows. It's a rare treat to see actors with more or less equal amounts of mental and physical agility, and their very physical performance helps create and sustain the show's relentless sense of momentum, a ceaseless energy shaped by director (and co-author) Alisa Palmer. There is no intermission, but the show flies by and, if anything, seems to end too soon.
The cast's ability to be both physically and emotionally expressive is invaluable in what proves to be a very expressionistic, even dream-like production, with transforming sets (based on versatile and deservedly award-winning designs by Dany Lane), evocative music (some of it composed by John Millard and Allen Cole) and moody lighting (courtesy of Andrea Lundy). Even the bridges between scenes, filled with music and sometimes fleshed out by pantomime, help convey mood or character or serve to advance the story in some way. It's a very rich, full and satisfying production, smartly constructed.
The Drawer Boy, directed by TNB Artistic Producer David Sherren, is a less artful and innovative production, but no less intelligent, entertaining or powerful. It's a simple tale (albeit underpinned by complex motivations), simply presented, and Sherren realizes its setting and characters with conviction and polish.
Written by Michael Healey, The Drawer Boy tells the tale of lifelong friends Morgan (Lee J. Campbell) and Angus (Brian McKay), who have been living and farming together since returning from their service in World War II, a service that emotionally scarred both men and mentally warped Angus. Into their strange, insular relationship comes Miles (Christian Barry), a naive young actor who lodges at their house to research farm life for a play. During his time there, the farmers teach him the meaning of hard work and friendship-and when he creates a theatrical interpretation of the two friends' lives, he unwittingly helps them rediscover truths about themselves and their relationship.
Jamie Atkinson's meticulously detailed set design and Chris Saad's capable lighting help Sherren craft a concrete and plausible farm space for the characters to inhabit, and the cast's performances are every bit as solid and credible. Barry is appropriately eager yet unsure as the callow thespian, Campbell is every inch the gruff, no-nonsense farmer, and McKay's Angus swings back and forth from benignly genial simpleton to a blank-eyed, vaguely troubled eccentric poised on the edge of a darker lunacy. Together, the TNB cast and crew have done ample justice to a wonderful, moving script suffused with humour and heart.