Review by Ivy Wigmore
Of all charming seaside villages, there can be few more charming than Victoria. When the Trans-Canada bypassed the then-thriving village, Victoria was automatically set apart and so it remains, just off the highway but clearly a special place. The Victoria Playhouse, built a century ago, first served as a community hall; the theatre, established in 1981, retains the yester-year atmosphere. It’s a lovely, comfortable and intimate space. On June 26, the Playhouse’s 35th season opened with The Melville Boys by Norm Foster.
In a nutshell: The Melville brothers, Lee and Owen (played by Corey Turner and Jeremie Saunders), have arrived at their aunt’s remote cabin for a weekend of fishing, beer and bonding. Lee, the serious and steady elder brother, is hoping to have a heart-to-heart about serious stuff while the wild-and-crazy Owen is hoping to do nothing of the kind. What, as they say, could go wrong? In a word, girls: two sisters as dissimilar as the two brothers. Just as the boys settle an argument over whether or not beer and potato chips constitute a balanced breakfast, Owen spots a couple of girls—girls!—on the water. Undeterred by his upcoming nuptials, Owen lures the young women into the cottage and the fun begins. Lee and Mary (the serious sister, played by Helen Killorn) spend the night playing cards and exchanging confidences, while Owen and Loretta spend the night… well, what do you suppose Owen and Loretta might get up to? Hint: It’s not sleeping.
From one perspective, The Melville Boys is all about coping, the various methods we use to manage the hands we’ve been dealt. Lee, for reasons that become apparent, is of the realist school while Owen and Mary have been banking on avoidance and denial. Much of the play was quite funny. Rebecca Griffin’s Loretta, the one unconflicted character, is a good-time gal with stars in her eyes, dreaming about parlaying her acting career (two TV ads for a local used car dealer) into fame and fortune. In a live reenactment of one of the (two) commercials, Loretta explains and demonstrates the art of making love to the camera.
Comedy is hard—ask any comedian—and adding drama/tragedy to the mix surely cannot make the playwright’s, director’s or actor’s task any easier. That aspect of the play didn’t work well for me. Extended comedic bits like Loretta’s reenactment of the commercial were effective but I didn’t feel that Foster’s humour had quite the edge required to work well with heavy material. The Melville Boys has been called a tragicomedy and a dramedy; we might need a new word—melodramedy—to characterize the cataclysmic final scene when the brothers finally have their talk, albeit at gunpoint.
That said, though, I think I was in a distinct minority. The sell-out crowd clearly and audibly enjoyed the show and was hugely appreciative. After the performance, I walked past little groups of theatre-goers happily strolling through the streets of Victoria. Conversations I eavesdropped on were all positive: The Melville Boys is already looking like a hit.