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The Birds and the Bees: Brilliant physical acting

27 Jun

Earl (played by John Dolan) whispers a few tantalizing lines into Gail’s (played by Nora McLellan) ear. Photo by Terry Manzo.

By Diva Heather Boa

BLYTH – On the same day stock markets plunged, the pound sterling took a nose dive, and those who won the vote for the United Kingdom to exit the European Union were left wondering just what they’d really done, a summer comedy, The Birds and the Bees, premiered at the Blyth Festival.

Playwright Mark Crawford could not have predicted that his story about a young turkey farmer who leaves her husband and moves back into her mother’s home after a 20-year absence, and all the shenanigans that subsequently take place, would premiere the day after an historic vote. But as a result of this coincidence, he achieved the target result of a good comedy – evoking much-needed laughter.

We are introduced to: Sarah’s mother, Gail, an uptight divorcée who raises bees, which she believes are dying as a result of neonicotinoid pesticides in corn and soybean seed planted by the neighbouring farmer who rents her land; Earl, the neighbouring farmer who is also a little vulgar and randy; and Ben, the student who is studying the bees and more often than not appears on stage in tight biking shorts and shirt, and a helmet.

We also see two bare bums, trunks, boxers, slips and a couple of bras in the impossible hilarity of this play. Not to worry though. It’s suitable for adult audiences of all ages to laugh, as evidenced on opening night this past Friday.

Marion Day (as Sarah) and Nora McLellan (as Gail) have a wonderful ease about them on stage, as if they are living in the moment and everything that’s taking place is really, truly real. It’s a particular pleasure to watch the two, although Christopher Allen (as Ben) and John Dolan (as Earl) are also fine actors.

But perhaps the real brilliance in the opening night performance was the physical acting all four actors did. Each had to deliver not just lines, but physical actions and reactions that were dependent on timing in order to nail the funny factor. And nail it they did.

It was a hoot to watch Gail argue with Earl while struggling with a dressing gown hastily put on backwards or to watch Ben try to pluck a bee stinger from a particularly sensitive region of his body.

I can’t give away much more, so you’ll have to go see it yourself, and forget whatever troubles ail you and the world on that day.

The Birds and Bees plays at the Blyth Festival in repertoire until Aug. 6. Tickets (Adults: $31 regular, $35 preferred; youth: $15. All orders subject to $6 handling charge) are available by calling the box office at 519-523-9300 or toll free at 1-877-862-5984 or online.


Ben (played by Christopher Allen) and Sarah (played by Marion Day). Photo by Terry Manzo.





Unnecessary Farce – A modern Comedy of Errors

23 Jun
Keith Savage and Ralph Small in Unnecessary Farce, 2016 Season

Keith Savage and Ralph Small in Unnecessary Farce at Huron Country Playhouse II.

By Diva Shari Parsons

GRAND BEND – Slapstick comedy was front and centre at the Huron Country Playhouse II during the opening night of Paul Slade Smith’s play, Unnecessary Farce.

Sean Elliot directs a high-energy production with lots of physicality, slamming doors, burlesque humour, and slapstick comedy as two bumbling police officers and an accountant work together to try to prove that the town mayor has embezzled municipal funds.

One of my favourite scenes was when Constable Billie Dwyer, well played by Kristen Peace, tries to escape from the motel room while being gagged and bound. My muscles were aching just watching her manoeuvres!

Kristen also did an amazing job with one incredibly long, rapid, breath taking piece of dialogue that left us all amazed and gasping for breath.

I admired the self-confidence of Jayme Armstrong, playing the character of accountant Miss Karen Brown, who had to disrobe, not just once, but several times! And yes, I envied her lithe figure.

Ted Simonett, as the slightly bumbling Mayor Meekly, reminded me of an older Andy Griffith.

Valerie Boyle provides a surprise twist of character and plot as Mayor Meekly’s “charming” wife, Mary.

David Leyshon portrays a somewhat ineffective and tongue-tied, yet sort of sweet, police officer, Eric Sheridan. His “getting dressed” routine was quite humorous.

Ralph Small put his heart, and by the look of his red face, all his high blood pressure, into the character of Todd “The Scotsman”, an assassin who kills people by playing his bagpipes. He looked quite fearsome when dressed in all his Scottish kilt and Busby hat! And I don’t know how he managed to wrap his tongue around all those Gaelic curse words!

I think my favourite character portrayal was Keith Savage as Agent Frank. His long legs, lanky movements and confused expressions reminded me of an American version of Inspector Clouseau of Pink Panther fame.

The set design of two adjoining hotel rooms was very well done. In fact, a friend who accompanied me to the play commented that there was something wrong when the play set had better bedding then she did!

Unnecessary Farce plays at the Huron Country Playhouse II until July 2nd.

Tickets, $44 regular, $36 preview, $26 youth under 20, are available by calling the box office at 1-855-372-9866 or visiting online.


Our Beautiful Sons: Powerful, raw & honest

19 Jun

Rebecca Auerbach and Jesse LaVercombe star in Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning at the Blyth Festival until Aug. 6. Written by Christopher Morris. Directed by Gil Garratt. Photo by Terry Manzo

By Diva Heather Boa

BLYTH – Through the actors on stage at the Blyth Festival on the opening night of Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning, I saw the Wingham family in the aftermath of the death of 23-year-old Corp. Matthew Dinning, who, along with three other Canadian Forces members, died in 2006 when the armoured vehicle they were travelling in struck an IED in Afghanistan.

In this world premiere, the powerful, raw, honest and incredible personal true story of how mother Laurie (Rebecca Auerbach), father Lincoln (J.D. Nicholsen), youngest son Brendon (Cameron Laurie) and even the widowed neighbour Gail (Catherine Fitch) dealt with the grief, guilt and memories of their loss is laid bare for all to see.

The story begins after a military official comes to the house to inform Laurie and Lincoln Dinning that they have final decision in whether their only living son, Brendon, can also join the military. From the start, there is conflict and recriminations between the couple; their son had already told his dad but not his mother. They are opposites. Laurie is fiercely determined, protector of family and private in nature. Lincoln is laid back, social and open, with a penchant for humour. They are a family of few words and little physical demonstration of affection.

Ultimately, Laurie takes some of her son’s ashes and hikes the El Camino, an historic pilgrimage route, to come to a decision on Brendon’s future.

Along the way, Auerbach portrays a woman – a mother and a wife – who is a soldier unto herself, demonstrating resolve, reason, conviction, loyalty as she struggles between the guilt of allowing a son to go into conflict knowing that he may die, and interfering in the will of a young man.

As I watch the play, I feel the heavy responsibility on playwright Christopher Morris and director Gil Garratt to tell this story just right. But during intermission, my companion tells me that the actors have captured the essence of the Dinning family members. She imagines they spent time with the family in order to mimic gestures and nuances.

She introduces to me to Lincoln, who tells me the play is true to what really happened. Maybe there’s a bit more arguing in the play, maybe it’s a bit more dramatic than it really was, he says, but it’s a play, after all.

To give the impression that this play is cluttered with arguing and recriminations would be wrong. It is also punctuated by humour, thanks to American traveller Mario (Tony Munch) and his run-on stories, a scene that involves a bag of frozen peas, and a rather tell-all sign Lincoln displays at the airport when he picks her up after her long absence.

Our Beautiful Sons is important to the local military heritage but it is bound to resonate for any military family that has suffered a loss. And, sadly, we have many across this country.

Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning plays at the Blyth Festival in repertoire until Aug. 6. Tickets (Adults: $31 regular, $35 preferred; youth: $15. All orders subject to $6 handling charge) Are available by calling the box office at 519-523-9300 or toll free at 1-877-862-5984 or online.



Praise for Sister Act

14 Jun
Aurianna Angelique as Deloris Van Cartier and Company in Sister Act, 2016 Season_2

Aurianna Angelique and Company in Sister Act, 2016. Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke.

By Diva Amanda Swartz

 GRAND BEND – An emotional high was evident in the opening day audience as it gave a much deserved standing ovation to the cast of ‘Sister Act’ playing at Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend.

Many have known and loved the movie version of ‘Sister Act’ since Whoopi Goldberg first appeared in this film, but now after seeing the live musical performance, they likely will forever be an even bigger fan of the musical. The energy and soul put into this show by the entire ensemble, from cast to choreography, made this show stand out above both the film version and other musicals.

Aurianna Angelique, who played Deloris Van Cartier or Sister Mary Clarence, wowed the audience with her commanding and captivating voice. This Diva gave a sassier and more confident edge to her character that had the audience dancing in their seats along with her performances.

Lee Siegel (Curtis) and his gang, Gerrard Everard (Joey), David Lopez (TJ), and Oscar Moreno (Pablo), gave great renditions of the bad guys that everyone loves. Their comedic portrayals of 1978 Phili gangsters gave everyone a good laugh, even making their song about killing Deloris seem amusing with some ‘Can-Can’ style high kicks, hip sways, and funky background singing.

Other performances to be rejoiced were by Matthew G. Brown (Eddie), who not only performed well on stage, but also had the best costume change in the play with not just one, but two tearaway costumes. Also, Susan Gilmour (Mother Superior), Lorraine Foreman (Sister Mary Theresa), Susan Johnston Collins (Sister Mary Patrick), Amanda Leigh (Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours), Laura Mae Nason (Sister Mary Robert), and Rebecca Poff (Sister Mary Lazarus), portrayed their characters in tune with the Sisters that everyone knows and loves from the film, but with some added funk and pazzazz. Truly each performer should be praised for their part in bringing immense joy to the audience through spectacular dance and song.

From the glowing red ‘Sister Act’ sign to the beautiful, versatile, and impressive sliding stage, this musical would not have been complete without the creative hands of the production team.

So much goes into taking a live play from great to outstanding. Lisa Stevens helped it achieve this with her fantastic, comical, and powerful choreography, as did Rachel Berchtold who designed the ever impressive costumes.

Director Max Reimer and his crew should be proud of this entertaining, witty, and hilarious musical that had the audience laughing and smiling until their cheeks hurt. Big praise goes out to the entire ensemble for their collaboration in creating something truly soulful.

Don’t miss your chance to see this dynamic performance! On stage until June 25.

Tickets, $44 regular, $36 preview, $26 youth under 20, are available by calling the box office at 1-855-372-9866 or visiting online.

Outdoor winter fun in Goderich

5 Feb

imageBy Diva Heather Boa

GODERICH – They were just two little words: Race ya?

And suddenly this writer and Fadi Didi, a morning host from 104.9 The Beach, were walking very quickly toward the lineup of kids waiting their turn on the massive ice slide that popped up today in Goderich’s downtown.

We finally got to the front of the line – a few kids butted, probably thinking no one over four feet high was taking a turn.

From the vantage point at the top, I could see the tic tac toe game in ice and the lighthouse ice sculpture, both assembled through the day, and could hear the Doug Varty Band playing a David Wilcox tune on stage, all part of the Goderich BIA ICEtacular celebrations. People mingled, some grabbing free hotdogs and cider, courtesy of the Salvation Army.

imageI eyed up the competition, took stock of the slope in front of me, and tucked my adult body into the flimsy and ripped plastic slider.

With a nod to the race master, I shoved off the ice block, and hurdled down the slope, the wind miaculously behind me and everything in front of me just a blur. Fadi was slow off the block and not even in my sight line. Sluggish, actually.

The first-place finish was mine.

Unfortunately, the designated photographer’s iPhone died and she didn’t get a picture of my win.

Maybe she will tomorrow when I take on Coun. Trevor Bazinet.

This weekend is the annual Winterfest Weekend, with its Rotary chili cook off at Suncoast Mall and snow-pitch tourney and dance at Goderich Memorial Arena tomorrow.

New this year is the Goderich BIA’s ICEtacular event in The Couthouse Park, with more interactive sculptures arriving tomorrow. As well, more than $1,000 in prizes is up for grabs in the snowflake hunt at participating businesses in The Square.

For a full schedule of events, visit

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Trucks, trailers, tractors – oh my!

4 Dec


By Diva Shari Parsons

SEAFORTH – The rare treasure of a mild and sunny Sunday afternoon in November calls for a road trip. My hubby and I enjoyed the drive to Seaforth where we stopped at the annual Toy and Craft Show and Sale held at the Seaforth Agriplex and Community Centre. Admission was $5 a person for ages 10 and up.

Before we entered the Agriplex, we were entertained by the sight of what I called the “push-me-pull-you” car. Two front ends of two separate vehicles had been joined together, each end with its own steering wheel and driver’s seat. The perfect car for the person who doesn’t know whether they are coming or going!

seaforthtoyandcraft8Inside the Agriplex, children were greeted by Santa and the 2015 Seaforth Fall Fair Ambassador, Maranda Klaver, handing out candy canes and good wishes.

seaforthtoyandcraft9Farmers and little farmers-to-be were greeted by the sight of toy trucks, trailers, tractors and farm machinery in every size, shape and colour, including pink! There were wonderful static displays of model farms and farm machinery. For the collector, there were vintage toy farm machinery, Pepsi and Coca-Cola wares and vintage style signs. Sports fans could browse through a variety of sports memorabilia and collectibles. There were also a couple of booths promoting the 2016 International Plowing Match, taking place in Walton, Ontario in September 2017. One such booth promoted a quilt block challenge for which participants create a quilt block using only the fabric provided. The completed blocks will be judged and the winning blocks will be assembled into a quilt, which will be raffled off during the Country Side Meets Coastline quilt show being held in August 2017 at the Seaforth Community Centre.

A short walk across the road to the Community Centre presented us with a varied selection of choices for Christmas gift shopping. One wall displayed a heart-warming selection of wooden snowmen and penguins complete with twinkling lights. There were tables laden with a mouth-watering variety of home-baked goodies. My mouth said “yes-yes” but my waistline said “no-no”! A number of booths offered home-made Christmas decorations, one of my favourites being a wreath constructed to look like the fluffy white head of a cheerful snowman. If bling is your thing, there were several styles, shapes and colours of jewelry to decorate fingers, wrists and necks. Another table I admired displayed lovely wooden bowls and vases polished to glow with a warm shine. Any little girl with a Barbie doll would have been delighted by the selection of beautiful home-made gowns displayed at another booth. As I have an eye for colour, I enjoyed looking over the bright and colourful Tupperware items artfully arranged on a table.

If shopping made you hungry or thirsty, the Seaforth Agricultural Society operated a couple of concession stands that offered a variety of goodies to tempt your tummy.

The Toy and Craft Show and Sale offers something of interest to young and old alike and is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours and maybe pick up a gift or two.





If you like wine, country drives and supporting local business, check out Maelstrom Winery

25 Sep



By Diva Shari Parsons

CLINTON – Sunny days call for jumping in the car and exploring our area.

I had seen an article on the new Maestrom Winery located southeast of Clinton, the first commercial winery in Huron County, and since my hubby had worked in the wine and spirits industry for many years and was interested in checking it out, off we went.

IMG_2421Although the address for the winery is in Seaforth, we discovered that we had to input Clinton on our GPS in order to find it. The winery is on Sanctuary Line just off Hwy. 8. There were smallish home-made road signs on each side of the highway and another one at a large, tan brick farmhouse.

We went down the driveway and parked under some trees across from the garage. One of the garage doors was open and we could see that inside was a small office and a table with wine bottles upon it.

IMG_2415We were greeted by a tall, pleasant young man named Brian, son of vintners Jim and Catherine Landsborough. I asked Brian about the inspiration for the winery’s name and he told me that it came from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Descent Into the Maelstrom”. The following is an explanation from the winery’s website:

“The Name – A Maelstrom is a powerful tidal current or whirlpool. In literature a Maelstrom is almost always used metaphorically to depict adversity and the hidden opportunities presented by that hardship. We chose the name to reflect our belief that challenges give rise to opportunity and, as is the case in Edgar Allen Poe’s descent into the Maelstrom, sometimes opportunity comes in the form of a wine barrel.”

IMG_2419The Landsborough’s descent into the maelstrom began in 2009 with the planting of the first vines of a single variety of grape. Now in 2015, there are eight acres planted with eight different varieties of grapes and it has been their first year of wine production. Maestrom Winery produces two white wines, Frontenac Blanc and Chardonnay, and two red wines, Tempest and Pinot Noir.

Brian offered us a wine tasting which I deferred to my husband as he is the “expert” and I am sensitive to yeasts. My hubby’s favourite was Tempest but he said that all the wines were comparable in quality and taste with any of the similar VQA wines that he has dealt with.

Maestrom Winery is also branching out into hard cider. They would like to use local apples but last year’s crops were damaged by frost in this area so this first cider pressing is made using apples from Collingwood. Unfortunately we were unable to sample the cider as it was not quite ready.

IMG_2413Both the wine and the cider are bottled at the winery. The wines range in price from $21 – $25 a bottle and while you can buy less expensive wine in a store, one must remember that this is a new, small output facility. You can purchase using cash, debit or credit.

After a pleasant and informative chat and wine tasting, we asked if we could see the vineyards. The vines are located just down the road on cattle pasture land. We enjoyed a stroll down the road admiring the ripening fruit in the quiet sunshine – quiet except for the blasting of the bird cannons – large and loud “pop-guns” on stands amongst the rows that go off at regular intervals to discourage the birds from sampling the tasty grapes.

Brian Landsborough  of Maelstrom Winery was our gracious host for the visit.

Brian Landsborough of Maelstrom Winery was our gracious host for the visit.