By Mike Keenan
In 2013 at the Shaw Festival, I watched Faith Healer, a powerful play that demanded actors to be at the top of their craft. Corrine Koslo, Peter Krantz and Jim Mezon were in total control, and Krantz was exceptional, his standout performance the equal of that of two of my Stratford favourites, Tom McCamus and Stephen Ouimette whom I thoroughly enjoyed in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. All three actors are no longer with Shaw, but the latter two have joined the St. Catharines Foster Festival.
Last night, I watched Krantz, who has not lost a beat, starring in a world premiere, Come Down From Up River, which features Shaver Bennett (Krantz) who has lived a solitary life as a logger in the woods of northern New Brunswick. He arrives at the doorstep of his estranged sister’s daughter, whom he hasn’t seen in 20 years. And that’s where Norm Foster excels, depicting human nature in both its folly and its poignancy as people struggle to communicate and connect.
Bonnie Doyle plays the niece (Amanda Parsons), and Liv Arsenault her wife (Kirsten Alter). Doyle is bitter about the role of Bennett in the past. She is a successful lawyer who is struggling with the glass ceiling in Saint John, New Brunswick. Arsenault, the “heart” component of the “heart-head” duo, works at home as a graphic artist. Both are convincing and well-cast by Director Patricia Vanstone. They are amazed that the rough and tumble lumberman has no issues with their interracial, same-sex marriage as Norm Foster brilliantly explores modern issues. And, as usual, the humour is spot on, particularly with Krantz whose intermittent love life back home, his dalliances with “Ruby” taking on dimensions that are hilarious to contemplate, particularly one choice segment that involves Doyle’s mother’s brooch.
Kirsten was born and raised in New Brunswick, where this play takes place while Amanda is originally from Nova Scotia. Krantz, a 28-season vet at the Shaw Festival, is relaxed and content to sip beer, but we learn that he has medical problems that force this extended family closer together to resolve and heal disputes. The set by Peter Hartwell, another Shaw catch, is simple and effective, the Owl’s Nest Tavern placed on one end of the stage and a hospital waiting area on the opposite end, both flanking a living room set in the middle.
Come Down From Up River is the third play in Norm Foster’s exploration of the Maritimes and its people. It runs two hours at the comfortable PAC, equipped with a lovely lounge. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. Ticket information is available at the Festival website at https://www.fosterfestival.com
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