Tag Archives: David Fox

Fury: Life, love and loss on stage in Blyth

2 Aug

 

Fury at the Blyth Festival.

Fury at the Blyth Festival.

By Diva Shari Parsons

BLYTH – Though waves may crash, this play doesn’t.

Having never before attended any production of the Blyth Festival, I looked forward to the opening night performance of Fury, along with a girlfriend who had also never attended.

The Blyth Festival is summer theatre that celebrates original Canadian theatre. The professional productions are held in the cozy and comfortable theatre housed in the historic red brick Blyth Memorial Hall.

Fury is a thought-provoking and, in the end, heart-wrenching look at the effect of The Great Storm of 1913 on the lives of five different people from various walks of life in the Port of Goderich.

I found that the script, written by playwright Peter Smith, was intelligent, sensitive, witty and even humorous at times.

Jeff Irving did an excellent job playing the boyishly handsome Michael Grey, a young farmer from Carlow with a mischievous grin, a twinkle in his eye and a devil-may-care attitude.

Michael’s love interest, the slightly repressed yet opinionated Margaret Mackey, niece and ward of Judge Cassidy was given what I felt was a somewhat wooden performance by Rachel Cairns.

Comedic relief and camaraderie was wonderfully provided by Keith Barker in the character of somewhat simple-minded and kind-hearted Bernard Smoke, the offspring of an Aboriginal mother and a Scottish father. Bernard may seem simple, but his “mind roads” can lead him to some profound places.

David Fox was a very convincing autocratic Judge Cassidy. His speech and mannerisms exemplified the character of a crotchety old man who was more concerned about public appearance and his standing in the community than he was about his niece’s happiness. But he is hiding a painful past and his frosty reserve thaws slightly in the end.

The young and up-coming lawyer, David Cooper, was well portrayed by Jason Chesworth. David, who comes across as slightly, annoyingly, obsequious and ingratiating has struck a bargain with the Judge that will give David career advancement and increased standing in the community. Margaret is the unwilling pawn in this agreement.

The stage setting, designed by Ronnie Burkett, was simple but very effective. There were four separate sections constructed to resemble a wooden pier. These sections were moved around to create the various settings, including what I thought was an ingenious rowboat. A large structure in the background served as both the stone balcony of the Judge’s house and the bow of the ship, the Wexford. The effective use of lighting and sound created the necessary changes in atmosphere and mood. The storm scene upon the Wexford was particularly well done.

Fury literally explodes upon the scene, pops up unexpectedly in the audience, makes you think, makes you laugh and if you are sentimental like me, may even bring a tear to your eye. My girlfriend and I both really enjoyed it.

Fury runs until Sept. 12 at the Blyth Memorial Hall. Tickets are $30 & $34 for adults and $15 for youth. Tickets for preview performances are $22 & $26. Tickets may be purchased at the online box office; by phone at 519.523.9300 or 1.877.862.5984 during box office hours: non-performance days 9am-5pm, evening performance days 9am-9pm; in person at 423 Queen St., Blyth; or by mail with cheque or credit card information and including a $4 service fee to Blyth Festival, Box 10, Blyth ON, N0M 1H0

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Blyth Festival’s season opener challenges “Life”

2 Jul
David Fox and Severn Thompson in Seeds at the Blyth Festival. Photo by Terry Manzo for the Blyth Festival

David Fox and Severn Thompson in Seeds at the Blyth Festival. Photo by Terry Manzo for the Blyth Festival

By Diva Karen Stewart

The Blyth Festival is one of my most favourite places to visit and last Friday night was no exception. It was the Opening of the festival’s 41st season.

StrawberryPieAs is typical on the grand Opening, avid theatre fans and major sponsors gather for a Gala Dinner. This year, as has been a tradition for many now, the Legion Ladies Auxiliary served a bountiful country-style roast beef dinner. And, I was happy to see the lip-smacking fresh strawberry pie for dessert. It was as delicious as I expected it to be. And … more importantly, guests at my table were delightful company with which to enjoy a repast.

Following dinner, Artistic Director Gil Garratt addressed those gathered, expressing how he feels a responsibility to speak to a “modern” and savvy rural audience through his programming choices. He noted how a successful farmer might be checking international markets on his smart phone, using high tech equipment in his barn or operating machinery with GIS installed systems, and all-the-while working thousands of acres of land or raising hundreds of heads of livestock. Garrett called his relationship with the audience a “long conversation.”

Garratt introduced the evening’s keynote speaker, Mark Crawford. Crawford’s successful play – Stag and Doe, which premiered at Blyth in 2014, is currently enjoying seven independent productions in theatres across Canada. This seemingly “instant” success is rare with a new play, but carries a tradition of plays developed and premiering on the Blyth stage that have a life beyond Blyth and confirming that “our” stories are universal in appeal and relevance.

Crawford shared that he was most struck by the relationship between the artists, the art and the audience at Blyth.

“What are we buying when we buy tickets, volunteer, or sponsor at this theatre?” he challenged. His answer: “our communities’ struggles, its hopes, its dreams, ourselves.”   He called the reciprocal agreement or relationship a sacred covenant between the artists and the audience. He told us how he likened new play development to Lammas Day – an August 1st Anglo-Saxon Festival of the Wheat Harvest celebration. Like the wheat, a play is not worth anything until you harvest it, or – in the case of a play – it’s seen by an audience. It may read nice on paper, but it’s not doing what it’s supposed to until an audience sees it. And he added that, like the wheat, the play has the ability to “nourish and feed your community”. He talked about a vulnerability in talking about art in an open-minded, national context and that we must continue to “celebrate, champion and hold-on-for-dear-life that Blyth Festival makes us all better.”

Following dinner, we were led by piper Jeff Wise on the short walk down to the theatre in Blyth Memorial Community Hall. The Opening Night production was the docudrama Seeds by Annabel Soutar. Although not a new play, this was a new production that embraced new technologies in its telling of a modern, true-life farming story.

Seeds opens with a thought-provoking question – “What is Life” – and thereafter follows the story of Percy Schmeiser, a Saskatchewan-based canola farmer, who takes on Monsanto, an agricultural bio-tech firm that licenses crop protection chemicals and seeds to farmers worldwide. Monsanto sues Schmeiser for illegally growing genetically modified seeds on his land.   Schmeiser claims the seeds blew onto his land and that he didn’t plant them at all, taking it further in fact to admit he knew very little about genetically modified processes and practices. The supreme court sides with Monsanto with deep implications and questions of the power of “life being created in a test tube”. And if “life” can be patented, who’s responsible for those who act in an unpredictable ways?

Director Kim Collier skillfully orchestrated through the mound of complicated content to guide this production in a way that had me, at times, sympathetic to both sides of the issue.

The cast of Seeds, led by one of Canada’s finest actors, David Fox, was stellar. Co-star Jason Chesworth says it best, “If you haven’t seen David Fox on stage before, you should book your tickets now. David’s portrayal of Percy Schmeiser is a beautiful thing to behold. What he can do with a moment of silence is always so compelling. Riveting.”

Equally strong was veteran actor, Severn Thompson, who played a young playwright adamant about finding the truth. She was curious and vulnerable as she guided the audience through the complexities of this true-life case.

The supporting cast – Keith Barker, Rachel Cairns, Jason Chesworth, Jeff Irving and Tracey Ferencz – ably played multiple roles including lawyers, scientists, and family – including Schmeiser’s quirky wife, Louise.

The set designed by Steve Lucas integrated a seemingly simple backdrop and moveable pieces that worked as lab desks, court tables or the kitchen table. (I say “seemingly” as my experience is that technically that’s not always the case.) Digital technology projections on the backdrop were used to quickly change the setting from the farm to a high-tech lab, a courtroom and other sites as the script demanded.   It worked, although personally I find rolling set pieces do get distracting and in this hugely complex production there were a lot of (necessary) scene changes. Contemporary costumes were designed by Karyn McCallum, lighting and projections were designed by Beth Kates for Playground Studios Inc.

The stage management team included Crystal MacDonnell and Christina Cicko.

As I mentioned the content of this play is complex and the volume of information shared begs a second viewing from this theatre fan.

It’s asks some important questions for us to ponder about the safety of our food supply and our need to increase yields at the expense of “life”.

Challenging, informative, and most of all entertaining, Seeds plays in repertory at the Blyth Festival until Aug. 8th.


 

Blyth Festival Box Office

Location: 423 Queen St., Blyth

 

Phone: 519-523-9600

Hours: Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on show nights)

Website: www.blythfestival.com

Tickets: Adults: regular $30, preferred $34; Preview: regular $22, preferred $26; Youth: regular $15, preferred $15.

piper

A Night of Gnocchi, Galleries and Good Theatre 

17 Aug

Part 2 Bistroby Diva Calista Powell

It has been a very long time since I walked through the doors of Blyth Memorial Hall, and upon walking out last Wednesday I vowed to return soon. A friend and I came down from London to see the Blyth Festival’s preview show of St. Anne’s Reel a new play written by Gil Garratt and directed by Marion de Vries. Starting with an absolutely amazing dinner by Chef Peter Gusso at Part 2 Bistro, my friend Pravin and I chose the vegetable gnocchi pasta in a brandy rosé sauce, and the mushroom stuffed chicken supreme. I am a huge gnocchi fan, and not many restaurants can make it right, but as always, Peter Gusso did not disappoint. Pravin chose the chicken supreme, and as he is originally from Toronto, he was amazed that the ingredients were from our local Huron County agricultural belt. I was definitely proud to show someone from a busy metropolitan area how we do things in rural Ontario. Resisting the temptation of dessert, we then headed over to the Hall and had a couple moments to browse through Kelly Stevenson’s art installation at the Bainton Art Gallery. It was amazing to see the fine details in the geometric patterns of her work and it interested me that she used india ink on a variety of mediums.

A couple onlookers view Kelly Stevenson’s exhibit at the Bainton Gallery.

A couple onlookers view Kelly Stevenson’s exhibit at the Bainton Gallery.

Doors open at Memorial Hall.

Doors open at Memorial Hall.


After perusing Kelly’s captivating work, we settled into our seats amongst a full house of eager theatre-goers. The performance started off with old man Walter in his farm house struggling to play his fiddle. He is then joined by a young and beautiful woman with a ghost-like presence who disappears when a travelling cowboy, Daniel shows up at the door. Quite quickly, the character roles fell into place and it was established that Daniel was returning back home for his mother’s funeral and Walter was in the midst of dealing with his recent widower status. Through heated bickering and passionate fiddling, the two wove a story of love, loss, and life’s regrets with the ghost of St. Anne hovering over them with a watchful eye. David Fox, Emily Lukasik and J.D. Nicholsen received a well deserved standing ovation at the end of their performance. I made a point to not read any synopses before St. Anne’s Reel and, as always, the Blyth Festival put on a deeply moving and unforgettable production.

St. Anne’s Reel plays until September 6th, 2014.

For tickets and other information about the Blyth Festival visit: http://www.blythfestival.com

Blyth Festival
P.O. Box 10, Blyth, ON  N0M 1H0
519-523-9300 | 1-877-862-5982

Photo 1: Come visit Peter Gusso and try his amazing gnocchi!

Photo 2: Doors open at Memorial Hall.

Photo 3: A couple onlookers view Kelly Stevenson’s exhibit at the Bainton Gallery.