Rolling in the Isle
Review by Sean McQuaid
Your derelict diarist is a fraud, folks. Or I was until last Wednesday, anyway. Here I was masquerading as an alleged quasi-authority on PEI theatre when I’d never seen a Patrick Ledwell show. Feel free to hurl your newspaper across the room in disgust, or just scowl scornfully at your screen if you’re reading this electronically. Maybe shake your head in my general direction, more in disappointment than anger. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
All done? Good. (No hard feelings, I had it coming.) Writer/comedian Ledwell’s become an Island cultural institution in the past decade or so, and I’m not entirely unfamiliar with his work. He’s a fun recurring guest on CBC’s The Debaters, for instance, and I always enjoy his distracted driving PSA at our beloved Brackley Drive-In Theatre; but somehow or other, I’d never seen any of his live shows.
That includes the PEI-themed, musical comedy variety shows Ledwell specializes in, such as The New Potato-Time Review (2009-2010), Charlottetown Festival hit Come-All-Ye (2011-2012), and The Island Summer Review (2013-present). Ledwell’s Come-All-Ye collaborators included singer-songwriter Mark Haines, now the co-creator and co-star of the Island Summer Review (or ISR for short), Ledwell’s longest-running show yet.
Said longevity means I finally got around to seeing ISR this year, on a rare night where I wasn’t broke or busy or distracted by a shiny object; and I’m glad I made the trip to Harmony House Theatre in scenic Hunter River, because the Haines-Ledwell duo puts on a really great show: clever, funny, energetic, even surprisingly moving in spots, and packed with laugh-out-loud comedy on topics local, regional and universal.
An ongoing Island-centric stage anthology of monologues and songs is a concept dating back at least as far as David Weale and Roy Johnstone’s seminal A Long Way from the Road, plus later variations on that theme by groups like The Four Tellers and Crowbush. The latter’s cast included the late, great Frank Ledwell, Patrick’s dad — professor, storyteller, gentleman, poet laureate and patriarch of PEI’s preternaturally accomplished Ledwell clan.
Funnier and far sillier than his father, Patrick seems more comfortable in the spotlight; but he shares his dad’s common touch, keen wit, and keen eye for the unique aspects of Island life, even if father and son expressed their insights quite differently. Probably the most touching part of ISR is a bit where Patrick recites his father’s poem “John of the Island” accompanied by Haines playing an original composition for cello, a sweetly wistful fusion of words and music spanning genres and generations.
It’s not the only played-straight, low-key grace note here — Haines leads the audience in a genuinely stirring sing-along of his great original tune “I’m on My Way” for instance, a dreamy ode to quixotic homecomings — but most of the show is fast-paced, funny, high-energy hijinks.
Comedy-wise, this includes Ledwell’s dissection of Maritime linguistic oddities, his fake news show Compost, extensive musings on Islanders’ relations with the mainland in general and Halifax & Moncton in particular, and proposed PEI-centric reboots of beloved Canadian TV classics like Mr. Dress-Up and the Littlest Hobo (here’s hoping for Mighty Hercules and Rocket Robin Hood next year).
Haines may be the musical pro, but Ledwell also plays multiple instruments, and the pair often jams together. The show’s playlist is a mix of covers like Ron Hynes’ “Love is Murder on Your Heart” and original tunes such as Haines’ funny, disturbingly familiar tribute to forgetfulness “What the Heck Did I Come in Here For?” and the duo’s clever, verbally nimble “Call Me Pal” song about trying to remember names in a province where everybody supposedly knows everybody. It all adds up to a memorably hilarious show.