Photos courtesy Orillia Opera House
Contributor Andrew Wagner-Chazalon shares this review of the latest super summer theatre offering, Come Down From Up River, from the team at the Orillia Opera House
We all carry scars from our past, and sooner or later we wind up facing them. But what do you do when the thing you confront turns out not to be what you thought it was?
In Norm Foster’s capable hands, that question, and the answer to it, are both poignant and hilarious. He explores the nature of love, forgiveness, and family in Come Down From Up River, the latest in a string of excellent theatrical productions on offer at the Orillia Opera House.
Liv and Bonnie are a successful couple living in Saint John, New Brunswick. Bonnie is a lawyer on track to become partner in one of the city’s largest law firms. Her wife, Liv, is a successful and fulfilled graphic designer. They seem to have a happy life together.
Come Down From Up River is Persistently Funny
But then Bonnie’s uncle, Shaver Bennett, asks if he can stay with them for a couple of days. He lives in the woods of northern New Brunswick, and is, Bonnie says, a lout. She warns Liv that Shaver is misogynistic, homophobic, and probably racist (Liv is Black, Bonnie and Shaver are white). He is Bonnie’s only living relative, and they haven’t seen each other in 23 years.
But when Liv meets Shaver, she soon starts questioning Bonnie’s assessment of him. Which raises a new question: if Shaver isn’t the bigoted backwoodsman she was expecting, why does Bonnie seem to hate him with such quiet intensity?
This fascinating interpersonal struggle shows what Norm Foster does so well when he’s at his best – and he’s at his best here. His writing is so that you hardly notice the serious questions he’s grappling with; it’s the kind of play that will leave a smile playing about your lips but have you still thinking about the characters days later.
Interesting Characters Brought to Life
It helps when the characters are brought to life as effectively as they are in this production. Marshall Button plays Shaver Bennett so well the role could almost have been written for him. In a way, it was.
Button is from northern New Brunswick, and made a name for himself in the early 2000s as the creator of Lucien, a completement bilingue backwoods philosopher who starred in a series of one-man shows as well as TV and radio appearances. In Button’s hands, Shaver is both funny and dignified, a character with depth and intrigue and a dry, dry wit. When he stops in the tavern to have a beer by himself, it might be because he’s grappling with his own inner demons… or it could just be because he’s thirsty and feels like a quiet beer.
Cassandra Guthrie brings tremendous energy to the role of Liv. She’s particularly delightful as she bounces off Shaver like a frenetic rubber ball hitting a bemused wall. Like Button, this is her first appearance at the Orillia Opera House.
Alison MacKay is a familiar face to Orillia theatre goers, having delighted audiences here in Plaza Suite and The Gentleman Clothier. She plays Bonnie with an icy fragility that is fascinating to watch: we are constantly wondering if the cold exterior she presents to the world will shatter, and how serious the damage will be when it does.
Be Sure to See the Season’s Last Show
The production is directed by Opera House artistic director Jesse Collins, who brings his usual deft touch to the play. He has great respect for the performers and the material and knows when to simply let them work their magic.
Come Down From Up River is the final show of the summer season at the Opera House and runs until September 2.
For tickets and other info, visit the Orillia Opera House website at www.orilliaoperahouse.ca/en/index.aspx.
Andrew Wagner-Chazalon is the managing editor and CEO of Dockside Publishing, and writes about the luxuries to be found in Muskoka and throughout Central Ontario.
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