Written by Ken Cameron
Directed by Ian Prinsloo
Starring Marion Day
and Larry Yachimec
Blyth Memorial Hall
In Blyth on Saturday
Ken Cameron's Harvest is the type of play that the rural Blyth Festival audience loves best. It is a serious story told through humour and imagination, and could certainly have a shelf life among city slickers as well.
The incident detailed in Harvest actually happened to Cameron's parents whose names have been fictionalized to Charlotte and Allan. When they retired from their Elgin County farm to a condo in town, they sold the land but retained the house as a rental property.
Their tenant Ron, a seemingly nice young man, claimed to be a WestJet pilot. In fact, he established a marijuana grow-op in the house. The gullible couple was left with mould-infested walls that insurance would not cover, and their future financial security was put in grave peril.
One would have supposed that when they heard that Ron's partner was called Razor, they might have been a bit suspicious. Charlotte and Allan, however, just think they are a gay couple. Some of the play's priceless dialogue comes out of the utter innocence of the two as they accept Ron's outrageous answers to their questions.
The charm of Harvest is that it is a two-hander with actors Marion Day and Larry Yachimec playing not only the hapless Charlotte and Allan, but all the other characters as well, gender notwithstanding. Sometimes they even take turns with the same character.
En route we meet their savvy farmer neighbour, pushy real estate agent, hard-nosed insurance broker, Charlotte's church lady friends, the doom-and-gloom police detective, not to mention Ron's ferocious guard dog. Embedded in the play is also a sobering look at the plight of rural Canada.
Cameron has written some deliciously sardonic one-liners for Allan, and Yachimec gives a delightfully laid back performance as the very droll ex-farmer. Day's Charlotte is a wonderfully contrary woman who has never backed down from an argument in 42 years of marriage. In fact, her husband confides to us that sometimes talking to her is like trying to reason with a tornado.
Director Ian Prinsloo orchestrates the play with snap, crackle and pop. The two actors instantly transport themselves in and out of characters as required with the help of designer Shawn Kerwin's clever accessories. For example, tenant Ron has cool shades, and the female real estate agent is depicted by a classy neck scarf. The two actors change physical stature and voices faster than greased lightning.
One absolutely hilarious vignette is Charlotte's encounter with the church ladies. Yachimec wheels out a golf club trolley from which four hats are attached by wires. As Charlotte talks to her friends about the house disaster, Yachimec bobs the hat of each talker while providing the appropriate voice.
Another wonderful moment happens when Allan visits the farmhouse. Day plays both Ron and his loudly barking dog at the same time, and without missing a beat. A huge laugh is also generated when Allan tells Charlotte that a CTV camera crew is about to arrive, and the poor woman streaks across the stage in her underwear wailing that she has nothing to wear for the great moment on national television.
Kerwin's set is interesting. There are three proscenium arches through which we see a back wall with a mural depicting the bucolic countryside. It is a sort of stage within a stage within a stage. There are also sliding panels of slatted wood that could be a fence or the side of a barn. The couple moves these about to change the various scenes, aided by Bonnie Beecher's evocative lighting and Todd Charlton's realistic sound effects.
Cameron has managed to create not only memorable characters in Charlotte and Allan, but write a lament for the decline of the independent farmer. What comes across is an intense love of the land which makes the play funny and poignant at the same time.
Harvest continues at the Blyth Festival until Aug. 16.