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Down on the Farm

The Drawer Boy

Review by Carol Little

The Drawer Boy, written by Michael Henley and directed by Duncan McIntosh, played at the Victoria Playhouse from September 9th to the 25th. The actors are veteran of stage and screen, Wally MacKinnon; seasoned favourite and founding Artistic Director of the Victoria Playhouse, Erskine Smith; and Victoria Playhouse newcomer, Ben Rayner.

The play is set in 1972 in a farmhouse kitchen, in a small community in Central Ontario. Miles (Rayner), a young man in his twenties, knocks on the farmhouse door and asks to stay and observe the two men who live there, Morgan (MacKinnon) and Angus (Smith), in the day to day life and work of a farm for two weeks as a form of hands-on research in order to study for an acting role in a realistic play about farming. What ensues is a combination of rural and urban culture clash with Morgan less than enthusiastic about having a city kid in his business and the unraveling of a tragedy that has been buried in the memories of Morgan and Angus for thirty years.

The play is both a comedy and a drama, drawing on the rigors of rural farm life, love and loss, and companionship to weave a compassionate story about two middle aged farming men and a young actor who find truth, trust and friendship in the telling and retelling of the coming of age story of the two farmers, and long hours of laborious work in the fields.

Repeated throughout the play is the story of Morgan and Angus, the farmer and the drawer, as young men who went off to London to fight in World War II and met their wives and the tragic accident that caused Angus to lose his short-term memory. Angus struggles to capture and retrieve the memories of his past in order to be able to move on with his future.

The theme of farm life, and life in general, is explained by Morgan concisely by the words “if you don’t produce, you die”. These words are the tie that finally brings Morgan and Miles to a mutual understanding and acceptance that allows them to appreciate the other’s earnest effort and struggle to survive.

MacKinnon played the understated role of Morgan with expert subtlety and timing. Smith gave a compelling portrayal of the simple minded, well-meaning, meek and kindhearted Angus, while Rayner’s Victoria Playhouse debut was a definite success. Victoria playhouse closes on a high note with The Drawer Boy as the final play of the 24th season.

The Drawer Boy debuted in Ontario in 1999, and has been performed throughout Canada since then and has recently played on numerous stages in the United States. It is the most produced play in North America in the last two years and was popularized when Tony Award winning actor John Mahoney, who played the character Marty Crane on the popular television series Frasier performed in the spring of this year at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in the role of Morgan.

Stage Life

How I Broke Into Showbiz

Review by Carol Little

Laurie Murphy and Lorne Elliot after the show Written by Montreal native Lorne Elliott and performed by Prince Edward Island actress Laurie Murphy, How I Broke Into Showbiz premiered at City Cinema in Charlottetown. Elliott wrote the play specifically with Murphy in mind because of her well-known stage presence and ability.

The play is a one-woman show about theatre life and theatre personalities with Laurie Murphy performing the multiple intertwining roles with seasoned versatility. Despite the relative lack of usage of props and the absence of additional actors, Murphy kept the audience’s interest from the moment she walked onto stage apologizing and announcing that “there’s not going to be a show tonight” with her comedic portrayal of stage life, high maintenance actors and backstage antics.

Murphy continually displayed her versatile acting skills playing the main role of a befuddled, overworked, frustrated replacement stage manager, as well as supporting roles including a crew of pompous, egotistical and drug addicted actors and the original stage manager who had a nervous breakdown and is in the “looney bin” since working with this particular troupe of actors.

Murphy easily made use of the relatively small stage area in City Cinema that is normally used as a film screening venue. The play had a universal appeal akin to reading a gossip column depicting the lives of celebrities, and the audience, which was mostly made up of actors and theatre enthusiasts, gave the performance a positive reception.

How I Broke Into Showbiz was a “read play,” in which Murphy carried and read notes from a spiral bound notebook, moving seamlessly from one character portrayal to another without fumbling over the written words or the dramatic characterization changes. Murphy said of the unconventional format after the show “I thought it would be easier to do a read play, but it was actually harder.”

Lorne Elliott stated that the goal of the Charlottetown performances was to “see if an audience wants to spend time with the characters.” He described the enthusiastic Charlottetown audience as similar to a test subject, hoping to gain the appropriate feedback from their response as to what works and what doesn’t work in the context of the play and to use this information to do some “nipping and tucking” until the performance meets both his and the audience’s approval. Once refined, Elliott intends to try the play in larger cities.

Lorne Elliott is a highly celebrated Canadian comedian, actor, playwright and director who has produced multiple plays in Prince Edward Island and is well known as the host of his own CBC radio comedy series Madly Off In All Directions for the past 10 seasons.

Laurie Murphy is a poet, actor, comedian, singer and producer of theatre based productions including the outdoor Shakespeare Play in the Park Inc.

City Cinema is a gem of a theatre that plays a rare variety of films including classics, foreign titles, animé and other non-mainstream features that is tucked away at 64 King Street in Charlottetown.

Secrets and Laughs


Move Over Mrs. Markham

Review by Carol Little

The production of Move Over Mrs. Markham, performed by the Jubilee Players (Sue Urquhart, Terry Foster, Elaine Chessman, Sandra Sheridan, Dale Harrington, Thane Clarke, Karen Slater, Gordon Cobb, Angela Brighty), written by Ray Cooney and John Chapman, and directed by Corin McFadden, was at the Jubilee Theatre in Summerside.

The play is set in the posh apartment of contemporary couple Joanna Markham (Urquhart) and Philip Markham (Harrington) on New Year’s Eve. Philip is a workaholic, employed by playboy Henry Lodge (Clarke) at a publishing house, with his office located below his apartment.

Move Over Mrs. Markham is a lighthearted play based on sexual humour and misunderstandings resulting from a web of attempted extra marital affairs involving four couples. The trouble begins with Mr. and Mrs. Markham scheduled to go out for dinner that evening, leaving their apartment seemingly available…

Linda Lodge (Sheridan), wife of Henry Lodge, confides in Joanna that she is toying with the intention of taking her, until now, harmless phone affair with the odd Walter Pangborne (Cobb), to the next level and wants to use Joanna and Philip’s apartment for the illicit rendezvous.

Meanwhile, Henry Lodge talks Philip into loaning him the apartment for his covert physical encounter with a young telephone operator, Miss Wilkinson (Brighty).

In addition to husband and wife (the Lodges) trying to plan secret affairs at the Markham’s apartment, Sylvie Hauser (Chessman), the Markham’s maid, is planning a furtive meeting with the interior decorator, Alastair Spenlow (Foster), whom the Markham’s initially assume is gay, in the same apartment on the same evening.

To complicate matters further, Philip finds part of a love note written to Linda from Walter and mistakenly suspects Joanna of having an affair with their flamboyant interior decorator, prompting a near sexual escapade between Joanna and Alastair that is continually thwarted by interruptions by the other would-be couples arriving unexpectedly.

It is a comedy of errors as each couple tries to meet in secret, that gets even more chaotic when a top children’s author drops in unexpectedly at the Markham’s to sign a major book deal with Henry Lodge and Philip Markham. Olive Harriet Smythe (Slater) is looking for a new publisher because her former publisher had begun to print books that were too racy, in her opinion, to be printed alongside her children’s “Bow Wow” line of books. The problem is that Joanna Markham and Alastair Spenlow happen to be at home in their night clothes when Smythe arrives, and so Alastair is mistaken for Philip, and they must keep up the charade to conceal the truth from Smythe in hopes that she will sign with their company.

With only a short run so far, the audience response to the deceptive comedy of secrets and lies Move Over Mrs. Markham has been so overwhelmingly positive that another performance has been added in September.

Homage to Humour

Leacock, A Musical Evening

Review by Carol Little

Hank Stinson and Heidi Jury at Beaconsfield’s Carriage House Theatre.Leacock, A Musical Evening was part of the Sunday Evening at The Carriage House Series at Beaconsfield Historic House in Charlottetown on August 7, 14 and 21. The hour-long performance was written/compiled by Hank Stinson mainly from excerpts of the works of Canada’s most beloved humourist Stephen Leacock. Actor, writer and storyteller Hank Stinson plays Stephen Leacock while singer and pianist Heidi Jury joins Stinson with music and song.

The current performance at Beaconsfield is an homage to the father of Canadian humour that features “Leacock” telling stories and singing on subjects from prohibition to Canadian identity, in a familial way on a small stage decorated as a homey hearth and located mere feet from audience members. Throughout the evening, Stinson interacted warmly with the crowd as Jury accompanied and complemented him with songs of the era. With many, the audience sang along.

Overall, the performance delineated bits and pieces of Leacock’s vast body of work in a format akin to an old school stand-up comedy routine, that included the classics “My Financial Career” and “Boarding-House Geometry” from Literary Lapses, with the idea to give the audience a taste of the clever wit and entertaining spirit of Leacock’s writing, that would hopefully spur audience members on to find and read the timeless fictional works in their entirety.

Stephen Leacock was not only an accomplished and celebrated comedic fiction writer. In his lifetime, he wrote 60 books, some humourous, others on such topics as literary criticism, economics, political science and history. He also toured the world, and taught economics at McGill University in Montreal.

Adding a unique touch to the already intimate feel of the performance, Stinson met audience members enjoying lemonade and cookies on the Beaconsfield terrace outside during a brief intermission. There he pulled up a chair amidst the crowd and read from Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, Leacock’s famous account of the fictional town of Mariposa, the chapter “The Marine Excursion of the Knights of Pythias,” in the refreshingly cool evening air. Stinson used the outdoor stage as an almost improvisational addition, fortunate that it was a beautiful summer evening, and the audience casually gathered round “Leacock” as he read. Asked about the reading after the show, Stinson said that without the impromptu reading—that unfortunately cannot be added in an outdoor setting to every performance, as it is dependent on audience interest, weather and location—“it can be difficult to get across the proper feel of a whole Leacock story.”

Stinson and Jury hope to have runs of Leacock, A Musical Evening in the fall.

Heartfelt Homecoming


Sarah McLachlan

Review by Carol Little

Sarah McLachlan (sketch: Troy)I entered the Moncton Coliseum for the first time on May 30th for the first of four Maritime shows of Sarah McLachlan’s “Afterglow Live 2005” tour. The Moncton Coliseum had the familiar, hollow, tin enclosure sensation of a classic Maritime hockey rink. This show was to be Halifax native Sarah McLachlan’s first performance in the Maritimes in nearly a decade and the thousands of enthusiastic fans in the arena were obviously excited to welcome her back. Six years had passed between the release of McLachlan’s last studio album Surfacing and her recent Afterglow, during which time the singer/songwriter was touring much of the U.S., both solo and as a part of her widely successful all-female touring music festival celebrating women musicians, Lilith Fair.

The Perishers, a Swedish band with thought provoking lyrics and a rubber armed drummer, opened for McLachlan, who graced the audience with a teaser performance, co-singing for one of The Perishers’ final songs, “Pills.”

At nine o’clock, when Sarah took to the green and brown moss covered, earthen-themed stage singing her recent hit “World On Fire,” the atmosphere instantly transformed into a warm, home coming concert that would set the tone for the emotionally laden performance. For two hours, including two encore performances, McLachlan wooed the audience with her whimsical, melodic voice, performing songs that were her personal favourites, including “Answer,” “Possession,” “Building A Mystery,” “Fallen,” “Angel,” “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy,” “Hold On,” “Sweet Surrender,” a moving cover of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” and Peter Gabriel’s “Salisbury Hill,” to which the audience applauded along enthusiastically, particularly erupting to the fitting lyrics “grab your things, I’m gonna take you home.”

McLachlan kept the show personal with a lot of conversation, talk of song inspiration, the creative process and personal anecdotes. She told stories of her mother, who recently passed away, and of touring with her young daughter, India, that created an intimate atmosphere that left fans with much more than an average performance and a comfortable feeling akin to an evening spent with a group of close friends. Sarah spoke affectionately of the song “Push,” off of her latest album, saying that it was her one “true love song” and that she wrote it for her husband, Ashwin Sood, the band’s drummer, whom she later introduced to the audience’s roars as “my ice cream man,” in reference to the fan favourite song “Ice Cream” with the lyrics “your love is better than ice cream.”

That evening, the audience seemed to embrace both the music and the experience of spending time with an inspirational Canadian musician. McLachlan’s powerful performance continually brought the crowd to their feet with roars of applause. Through her heartfelt words, and genuine enthusiasm, Sarah McLachlan was obviously happy to be “home” in the Maritimes after a long absence.

Rustic Romance

Lily & Lorne

Review by Carol Little

The romantic musical comedy Lily & Lorne is featured in New Glasgow at the River Theatre, located at the PEI Preserve Company. This original play was written by Kyle MacDougall and is performed by Holly Green and Kyle MacDougall.

Entering the River Theatre, one expects an amateur evening in the rustic, unfinished barn with bare wooden rafters and plastic patio style seating, focused on a small, curtain-less, stationary stage. Within moments of the actors taking the stage though, the rough, simple atmosphere was forgotten and the audience became smitten with the convincing characters and lost in their charismatic story.

Lily (Green) and Lorne (MacDougall) are a passionate young married couple facing the common frustrations of clashing individual interests that can plague or challenge relationships. While Lily dreams of becoming a famous actress on the Broadway stage in New York City, Lorne is obsessively nitpicking over the gall of a competitive grocer who has allowed the import and sale of Idaho potatoes in Prince Edward Island.

“Luminous Lorne” is overpowered by the scandalous, treasonous potatoes in his midst and becomes consumed with the obsessive desire to taste one of these illustrious potatoes in order to see how it connivingly infiltrated his peaceful community. Ashamed and embarrassed by his fraudulent, immoral desire, he gets tangled in his own self-inflicted seedy, less than stealth mission to obtain and test one of the Idaho potatoes without being found out by the locals.

Lily meanwhile, begins reciting poetry and reading plays behind Lorne’s back while attempting to secure an audition with a visiting talent scout from New York. While likeable, Lorne is a needy and insecure husband who is quickly threatened by Lily’s ambition to become an actress. Easily distracted from his wife’s needs by his grand ideas of an American invasion initiated with the potato industry, Lorne fails to see Lily’s genuine desire and need to give her dream a chance.

The raw setting worked to their advantage as the actors made wonderful use of the simple stage, employing physical humour, monologues, singing, and dance, to give the stage the intimate feel of a newlywed couple’s cozy bachelor style apartment.

Green and MacDougall delighted audience members with their energetic, comedic characterization and cleverly interspersed scene breaks with toe-tapping piping and highland music that kept the spectators interested. Lily and Lorne are convincing, willful characters that easily bring to life a charming story that is sure to make you laugh.

Don’t miss the endearing portrayal of marital life in this uniquely hilarious Island love story!

Grown Naturally

Hedgerow

Review by Carol Little

Hedgerow members are storyteller Alan Buchanan, singer-songwriter Alan Rankin, and musicians Perry Williams and Brad Fremlin. The Hedgerow performance is described by Buchanan as “a trip through the fields and hedgerows along island roads”. Buchanan goes on to describe storytelling in general as organic, having grown naturally out of the ground, and states that we are all innate storytellers.

The show is a tribute to the oral ritual of passing down knowledge and history through animated narrative accounts of events and incorporates old-time traditional storytelling by Alan Buchanan intertwined and complemented by songs, all but one written by Alan Rankin, performed by Rankin, Williams and Fremlin. Rankin’s heartfelt voice and songs added to the warmth and maritime flavour of an evening of tales of days gone by that touches on subjects as diverse to Island life and culture as immigration, settlement, family, sex, drinking, and the Northumberland Strait ferry/bridge debates of old, portraying island stereotypes and generally celebrating the Island way of life.

The overall atmosphere of the evening promoted a sense that the audience should either be huddled around a campfire hearing the tales spun by a cousin or uncle, or sunk deep into the folds of an armchair by a fire on a winter’s eve, and in that sense could have benefited from a more intimate setting, possibly even a centered stage with spectators gathered around the storytellers. Still, the men sat on kitchen chairs and the stage was decorated with the idea of a country kitchen homestead depicted by a fireplace, rocking chair, books on an end table and a glass of milk, complete with a Prince Edward Island scenic painting on each side of the stage.

Throughout the evening, I was reminded of Seth’s recent graphic novel Bannock, Beans and Black Tea, which touchingly chronicles his father John Gallant’s coming of age in Souris, Prince Edward Island.

In these fast paced, digital times, the traditional art of storytelling is too often lost along with family lore and history. While the performance could have benefited from more direct character acting, usage of props and unique stories, I nonetheless found it refreshing to see a show rooted in family tradition and expect that tourists will take as much delight out of the portrayal of our cultural heritage, as native Islanders will.

Who the Heck?


Chiquésa

Review by Carol Little

On July 7th, the all-female group Chiquésa, from the Acadian community of Prince Edward Island, La Région Évangéline, performed their first two-hour show to an enthusiastic crowd at the Jubilee Theatre in Summerside. Tanya Gallant (vocals, keys, bodhran), Caroline Bernard (vocals, keys), Christina Gallant-MacLean (vocals, bodhran, djembe), Julie Arsenault (vocals, acoustic guitar, bass, bodhran) and Anastasia DesRoches (fiddle, djembe) shimmered on-stage, all dressed in black under yellow and blue star shaped lights and a backdrop of blue and red; the colours of Acadie. The women moved through the performance with grace, giving the impression of seasoned professionals with an evident passion for music.

The multi-talented group awed the crowd with their traditional yet diverse musical sound employed by uniquely blending their own arrangements and rhythmical interpretation of Acadian and contemporary songs. Anastasia DesRoches describes Chiquésa’s sound as being “inspired by the traditional domain, but influenced by a multitude of styles including Celtic, blue grass and rock and roll.”

The women performed several songs written by Evangeline native Paul D. Gallant, as well as three original pieces by Jeanitta Bernard, member Caroline Bernard’s mother. The evening also showcased an a cappella performance by the four vocalists followed by a rousing step dancing standard by DesRoches, and even included some bilingual Island inspired comedy courtesy of a surprise guest appearance by Wayne Robichaux posing as the “mayor of Mont-Carmel,” who stated that he was honoured to perform with the musical group “Chicken Saw.”

The bilingual performance was not limited to a French speaking audience and the contagious toe tapping melodies, passion and humour had definite appeal and accessibility to spectators of various ages and languages. DesRoches describes the evening as “a fun show for anyone who enjoys Acadian music.”

Throughout the rich harmony singing, energetic fiddling, dance, and creative pairing of instruments such as fiddle with bass guitar, the women wore genuine smiles of excitement. They played their hearts out, as evidenced by the visibly ragged violin bowstrings.

The name Chiquésa is derived from an Acadian slang term meaning, “Who the heck is that?” and is quite appropriate for a group that may soon be turning heads. While they are only emerging in the public eye, the cheerful reception to Chiquésa’s recent performance gives the impression that they are about to burst out of obscurity to quickly become a Maritime favourite.

The group has no immediate plans to record a CD, but is not ruling out the possibility of a release in the future. For now, they are concentrating on developing their unique harmony sound and promoting their innovative live show.

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