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.

Next to Normal: A play to be talked about

10 Apr

nexttonormalBy Diva Heather Boa

Next to Normal isn’t your normal community theatre production by a long shot.

You’d be hard-pressed to have a few laughs or find familiar lyrics in this production by Goderich Little Theatre, running until April 16. Rather, the rock musical that first hit Off-Broadway in 2008, is a relevant, weighty commentary on the effects of mental illness on a family, also touching on dysfunctional relationships and drug addiction – with no real upside.

It’s the story of a mother (played by Susan Carradine-Armstrong) who struggles with bipolar disorder while trying to hold together her small family, a father (played by Matthew Hussey) who is bound by a sense of duty and forever hopeful that the next treatment will bring a cure, a subtly manipulative son (played by Jordan Henry), and an angry, forgotten daughter (Liv Hussey) who turns to pharmaceuticals for solace. It is a wonderfully sad, raw story in which possibly any of us can find a little bit of ourselves.

In Saturday night’s performance, the cast of six embraces this big script, heavy in lines and music, with an energy and believability that could rival any number of professional theatre performances.

Director Jordan Henry, who also plays the son, delivers an inspiring interpretation of the play, with music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey. His vision is clear and crisp, with well-defined characters that make the story easy for the audience to follow, even with a few surprises thrown in.

In particular, Carradine-Armstrong is spellbinding as the mother, equally believable manically making sandwiches on the kitchen floor as she is eloquently expressing love for her teenaged daughter. At times she is coy and playful, at other times regretful and lost. Always, she makes her character shine.

Two youths (Liv Hussey and Ben Hearn, as the daughter’s boyfriend) who hold their own on stage with veteran actors may be a testament to the strong drama classes in our local high schools.

Cara Stephenson has the challenge of playing various doctor characters that I didn’t find particularly well-written – an issue for the playwright rather than the local performers – but she has a bit of fun in her roles and has a bold singing voice that fits nicely with the rest of the cast.

The set design is intriguing, with broken, wide-set boards in the shape of a house at the back of the stage, a backdrop to the band on risers in full view of the audience. The remainder of the economy-sized stage is cluttered with furniture and props that are simply rearranged as required.

This is a play to be talked about. Mental illness is a topic we should be talking about. As the director says: “…we hope you enjoy this production as much as we have, and, more importantly, that this production will encourage you to feel, think and share.”


What: Next to Normal, a presentation of Goderich Little Theatre

Where: The Livery Theatre, 35 South St., Goderich

When: April 14-16 at 8 p.m.

How: Box Office open Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesday to Friday from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Rush seats, if available, on sale 30 minutes before performance. Tickets online at (may take up to three days to process). Members: $20 adults, $18 seniors, $15 youth under 18, $10 children under 12. Non-members: $25 adults, $22.50 seniors, $15 youth under 18, $10 children under 12.

How Sweet It Is!

22 Mar

maplecreek6By Diva Caroline Thuss

March Break…for those of us who did not escape the cold for much warmer weather to the south it is usually difficult to come up with activities that the kids will love to do while off from school. This Diva did not have to look too far to come up with a delicious and educational excursion that only meant a short drive to just outside of Blyth. The Blyth Creek Maple Farm was a big hit for kids of all ages (including mom and dad, and grandparents too).

maplecreek1When we first arrived we were greeted by the Bachert Family and told that the wagon would be leaving for the bush shortly. What great timing. After a short and bumpy drive back into the 30 acres of bush, we were taken back in time to see how the Aboriginal people discovered the sweet sap from the Maple tree and how to turn it into maple sugar.

maplecreek2After a chance to try our luck with a bow, we were off to the next camp area that showcased how pioneers worked with the knowledge of the Aboriginal people and developed their own method to make sweet maple syrup – a three-kettle process. Everyone got a chance to try out a two-man push saw – just like playing tug of war over a toy – and to play a traditional ring toss game that would have been used by early settlers.

maplecreek4maplecreek7Then we were off to see the modern vacuum system that the Becharts use. This helps them extract more sap from the maples, which increased their production. They still had several trees that had buckets on them as well but it is so impressive to see how technology is making this job easier.

maplecreek5After, we were back on the wagon and it was another short trip to the sugar shack where the magic happens. I am always amazed to hear how it takes 40 litres of sap to make one delicious litre of maple syrup. The modern day evaporator was not running yet that day but I could imagine the smell of the sweet sap boiling away working its way to be the best topping on so many things.

maplecreek8 maplecreek9 maplecreek10Next stop was to sample the finished product in the tasting room. This place is a great spot to finish off your visit. They had a fire going and a variety of games to keep everyone busy while the freshly made pancakes and sausages were getting ready for us to devour.

maplecreek12 maplecreek14We opted for pancakes, sausages and baked maple beans – although the maple milkshake was tempting. These were topped with a hearty helping of the Becherts’ work that was lovingly enjoyed by everyone in my family.

Maple products are also available to take home with you as you will be wanting to keep enjoying this liquid gold treat in any way that you can think of.

maplecreek12Maple season runs well into April so I would make room on your calendar to check out Blyth Creek Maple Farm this spring. You should plan on spending at least two and a half hours there.

Blyth Creek Maple Farm

Where: 52232 Montcrieff Road, Blyth

What: Family Adventures

(during maple season)

Sugar Bush Tour

  • $5 + HST (children 2-14)
  • $6 + HST (adults 15+)
  • Family Pass $20 + HST (2 children & 2 adults)             

Meal Menu (prices vary)

  • Pancake & Breakfast Sausage
  • Eggs, Pancake, Sausage
  • Eggs, Pancake, Sausage, Maple Baked Beans
  • Waffles
  • Specialty pancake of the day
  • Hot and Cold Drinks available

(applicable taxes not included)


It’s a sure sign of Spring: Beach Street Station is open

21 Mar

beachstreetstation1By Diva Heather Boa

GODERICH – The main attraction at The Beach Street Station is a bit of a toss up. Is it the intriguing menu of fresh, local foods carefully crafted by Chef James Welsh or is it the spectacular, ever-changing view served up by Mother Nature?

A close third place might be simply to glimpse the inside of this former CPR station, which was moved from one location to another with painstaking precision that drew a crowd daily in the summer of 2013, with its hipped roof over the central portion and a cross-gable and lunette trackside. Original interior features include a true ceiling with three large medallions, wooden screens, interior doors, fixtures, trim and decorative plaster. Its kitchen lies beyond a glassed wall so that diners can see their meals in the works.

On August 3, 1988, the last train stopped on the bridge to blow its whistle for a final time.

mainNo matter the reason, it’s the first Saturday of a new season, and at 6:30 p.m. the main dining area at the Beach Street Station is packed, much to the satisfaction of owner Herb Marshall. He has picked out a table in the middle of the room for us, but offers to seat us elsewhere if the glorious light of the sun becomes too much. But those of us on the west side of the table bob and weave in order to block the setting sun for our dinner companions. It’s the price we gladly pay for a clear, sunny evening in late March.

IMG_0110IMG_0119IMG_0130Herb’s wife, Sherry, and his daughter, Brianna, are also on the floor this evening, serving and visiting with guests.

The menu is expanded this season, with familiar dishes such as Yellow Perch and Chips ($18), and Great Lakes Pickerel ($24), and then there’s Five Spice Duck ($24) and Chicken Milanaise ($19). Vegan and gluten-free items are indicated on the menu.

IMG_0131Our table starts with: The enormous Huron County Charcuterie ($18), a mix of local cheese, cured meat, bread, marinated vegetables and mango chutney all served on a butcher block; a Roasted Beet Salad ($9), that’s divine in its simplicity; and an old favourite, two Crab Cakes ($12), served with a fresh corn relish and cilantro oil.

IMG_0125As a main, I choose the Great Lakes Pickerel, with its perfectly pan-seared fillets resting atop a mixture of roasted red-skinned potatoes, cauliflower and asparagus. It’s colourfully finished with a cascade of fresh salsa and dots of green that I fail to identify.

The fellow beside me passes around pieces of pork back ribs, which fall off the bone as he proffers a forkful across the table. Others also choose the pickerel, something of a must-have in a restaurant on Lake Huron.

IMG_0134By 7:30 p.m., the restaurant is much quieter, and the sun is just giving its final show on the horizon. There’s now a flourless chocolate cake sprinkled with icing sugar and a crème caramel topped with a chewy cookie being shared at our table. Both are delicious, according to those who test them. And the coffee, although not local, is strong and hot.

A perfect end to the day and a promise of a long summer on the lake.


Beach Street Station

Location: Goderich’s Beachfront

Hours: Effective March 16, from Wednesday to Sunday from 11:30 to 9 p.m. Subject to change as the season gets busy. It’s always best to call ahead and ensure the kitchen is open later hours.

Reservations: 519-612-2212

Website: Check online for menus, history, photos and videos.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Morris.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Morris.