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Over the River & Through the Woods at the Masquers

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By Theresa de Valence - Posted on 31 January 2006

A new twist in my adventures understanding theatre: Over The River And Through The Woods (directed by Renee Echavez) was so successful that I didn’t like it at all when I first saw it.

We were early getting to the theatre. As this was to be a rehearsal, the lights stayed on. We quietly discussed the empty set (designed by David Wilkerson) - proof positive that visual cues speak volumes. Were I to describe that set (the inside of a house), you would know the exact socio-economic position of the family in the play. Of course, it would take a whole chapter to tell that story and you might get bored. The simplicity with which that visual message was delivered spoke to the incredible skill of the set designer and his crew. Later during the play, the attitudes of the participants were expected, mostly because the clues had already been provided. Yet another visual feast!

Last year at a different Masquers rehearsal, the director said that having the actors wear street clothes was a tool to help them react naturally in their stage characters. What the director didn’t mention was that street clothes were also a useful tool for fooling the audience.

A friend has confirmed my impression of my last adventure: One indicator of any play’s value is its ability to make the audience forget that it’s in a play. In the current Masquers performance, I had the uncomfortable feeling of being a voyeuse (feminine, vicarious) of someone else’s argument. For almost a week I thought I had overheard an unpleasant stupid family squabble. Since then my life has also completely changed. It is impossible to credit that the performance had no influence.

The grandparents are much better drawn characters than the youths. All the actors in the play have an awkward metamorphosis for the unclear time period during which the play spans. Because it is common to all characters, I now think that the fault lies with the writer, not the actors. Of course, I was fooled for over a week, so there is some question about the validity of even that perception.

Wayne Johnson (playing Grandad Frank) looks and sounds tough. The play unfolds his past in a believable and sometimes traumatic way. Grandad Frank needs to give up driving because he can no longer see well enough to drive. Can you imagine how terrible that is for him?

How about you? Do you still drive? For those of us on the physically declining side of life that is the terror of our future. If any of us lives long enough (not just Grandad Frank), we will be blind. It is very scary, and, it gets closer every day.

Marian Simpson (playing Grandma Aida, photo right, photo by Jerry Telfer) selected a cat as her view of her character’s soul. Imagine a cat purring beside you, rubbing herself against your leg (patting her grandson on the arm), convinced that she displays great affection (if only she can make you feel guilty enough to give some back). She wrinkles up her nose for a tentative sniff as she inspects a saucer of milk. That wispy hair had me completely fooled.

Dory Ehrlich (playing Grandma Emma, photo left) tells a lot of dubious jokes. Do you already know that I dislike slapstick humour? During Grandma Emma’s bad jokes, I noticed how agile an actress is Dory. How can she possibly laugh like that at a joke which isn’t even funny? Oh yes, of course, I’m in the middle of a play, she retells the same jokes every weekend. Possibly none of the jokes are funny, that’s the script. Hmmm.

Grandad Nunzio is a character cunningly interpreted by David Lee. Grandad Nunzio paints us a word picture involving old folks getting on a bus, we laugh joyously at how preposterous the old farts are. He has silly habits and devilish secrets. From Grandad Nunzio, I learned about attitude. I know that sounds enigmatic, but wait and see.

The grandparents hide their true feelings from Dillon Siedentopf (who plays Grandson Nick, photo, centre). Nick, like most children, views his grandparents’ expressions of love with exasperation and embarrassment. Nick has a few “stagey” moments (reminding us that we are in a play) and I am able to tell you that’s a result of his skill, but I can’t say whether it is done well or poorly. I am duped again.

Heather Morrison plays Caitlan O’Hare, the bait used by the grandparents to lure Nick away from his desire to leave town. Caitlan is attracted to Nick in spite of the embarrassing antics of Nick and the grandparents. We never really understand why, but she is young and charming and endearingly played. Caitlan delivers some priceless lines.

By the end of the performance, Nick is older and has more ability to see the world from the grandparents’ point of view. This may be the key point of the play.

We are all “right” all of the time, because we see the world from a unique viewpoint. There are no good and bad actions in life; everything which happens to us can be viewed from someone else’s standpoint and when that happens, perception about the event changes.

This can also be called attitude. Events can be painful and frustrating or you can lie down and enjoy them. Your attitude is completely up to you. And we are all going to die someday.

Are the grandparents successful in their devious plot to convince Nick to stay in town? Do Caitlan and Nick fall in love? Do the Good Guys win in the end?

Ah, now that would be telling. You’ll have to see the play to find out.