Reviews of: THE TRACKS and goldfish at Here for Now Theatre, Stratford, Ont.

by Lynn on July 8, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person under a canopy on the back lawn of the Bruce Hotel, in Stratford, Ont.

Bravo to Fiona Mongillo for getting us back to the theatre. She is the Artistic Director of the Here for Now Theatre Company and has curated the 2021 New Works Festival, composed of ten original works written, created and performed by artists from Stratford, Ontario.

For the second year in a row the festival will be performed on the back lawn of the Bruce Hotel, this time under a beautiful open-air canopy. All seats are properly distanced for safety; strict health protocols are followed and everybody arrives wearing a mask (Although we can take them off in the tent.

Ms Mongillo bounded onto the stage, smiling, said “Hello” and we were hers. What a thrilling, moving experience it was to be with a like-minded group of people applauding a resourceful young woman, who won’t let a pandemic stop her from creating theatre.

She said that the recurring theme of the 10 plays was ‘togetherness’; how the characters (and I would believe those watching the plays) crave to be together, connected. After seeing the first two plays, she could also say that “tenacious” is a theme.  H\

The Tracks

Written by Mark Weatherley

Music and Lyrics by Kale Penny

Directed by Monique Lund

Cast: Lauren Bowler

Kale Penny.

The Tracks is billed as a musical comedy. The blurb on the show explains it this way: “worlds collide when a street corner busker encounters a classical violinist who finds herself at a crossroads.”

The Story and comment. There was no formal program so I’m not sure of the character’s names so I’ll use the actor’s name. Kale is the busker and provides the songs and his own guitar accompaniment. He sits on one of the two buckets on stage as a seat.  As he’s playing we see in the distance a smartly-dressed woman coming down the path, cross the grass into the canopy and cross the stage and look up stage into the distance. This is Lauren. She has an appointment for a job interview in one of the bank buildings in the area (the financial district of this city).

She sees Kale there and tosses a coin into his open guitar case. (there is a lovely bit of business when he puts on a rubber glove, snapping the latex, picks up the coin and sprays it with disinfectant). Kale informs Lauren that those bank buildings are closed because of the pandemic—the only time the pandemic will really be referenced.

They strike up a conversation with Lauren being prickly and Kale replying but not as pointedly. She notes that he is playing to a disserted corner. He says that this is his space, his ‘pitch’ and playing his music is what he does about eight hours a day.

Lauren is applying for an entrance level job—and really has an interview but she’s early. She hopes to be hired if only to serve coffee so that she can take the securities course and exams and then make lots of money. She is/was a classical musician, playing the violin in an orchestra. She had a dream of being the first violin of the orchestra and practiced and worked for that dream but something got in the way and she left music to try and make money.  Kale senses something else at play here and the conversation turns decidedly philosophical.

While The Tracks is described as a musical comedy the play is deeper, more thoughtful than that. The Tracksis a love-letter to creating art, music, following your dreams and not giving up. While the pandemic is referred to slightly, I think the play is about not giving up on your art when the world has shut down or when the audience seems to disappear as it has for Kale.

With Lauren she thought so deeply about one part of her playing that she lost the larger picture and was ready to quit because of it.  Mark Weatherley’s play beautifully captures the worlds of these two musicians. With Kale his words to Lauren are funny and impish but they are also reflective and philosophical of a man who is alone with his music and thoughts for the whole day. He has had time to ponder what is important and singing his words and music are uppermost.  He has that pitch and regardless of an audience he will be there creating and ‘sharing’ his music. With Lauren, Weatherley creates a classical musician who plays a violin worth a fortune, that is itself a work of art. She delves deeply into the music and how to create and interpret it. Both are different characters of course and their difference is vividly created in this play. But their love of music connects them.

The Production and comment.  The production beautifully realizes the depth of the play and these characters. It’s about needing a connection as Lauren and Kale make their connection with banter and music. At times she joins him in his music and is as invested in the songs as he is. Her blazer is unbuttoned and she experiences a freedom through his songs, thanks to Monique Lund’s thoughtful, detailed direction. And of course it’s funny—that wonderful business at the beginning with Kale snapping on the latex glove to disinfect that coin then tossing it back into his case is priceless.

The play is performed with great chemistry by Kale Penny as Kale and Lauren Bowler as Lauren. The banter is easy and natural. His singing is soul-stirring. His lyrics are smart. She gradually eases from being buttoned up and formal to free and relaxed because of the music and the company.

To add another note of togetherness: Monique Lund and Mark Weatherley are married to each other. And Kale Penny and Lauren Bowler are married to each other.

The Tracks is a terrific way to begin the New Works Festival and get people back together to watch it in person.


Written and directed by Steve Ross

Cast: Laura Condlln

John Dolan.

The Story and comment. Steve Ross a terrific actor in his own right and now he can add writer and director to that list. goldfish is the story of Walter and Shannon.  Walter is an irascible senior citizen with a hazy memory. He lives with his daughter and spends his day sitting in a chair, watching the world from the porch. Shannon has just moved across the street with her husband and two young boys. She runs a daycare and meets Walter when a beachball accidentally flies across the street and hits him in the head.  He’s not hurt by this starts their friendship, except she has to remind him every time that her name is Shannon and he keeps introducing himself to her as well, forgetting he has done it every day they see each other.

Over the course of a year, she learns about Walter’s late wife, his temper, his love of corny jokes and that he’s a true friend. We learn that Shannon is a harried, caring mother who is sensitive to her children and their needs—one of her boys wants to wear a princess dress and Shannon is ready to let him while her husband is more rigid. We also learn that her marriage is in trouble and what kind of a considerate, thoughtful woman she is. These are two characters navigating difficult waters as they try to muddle through with their lives and lean on each other to do it forming an unlikely friendship.

Steve Ross has written a sweet and heart-squeezing play. He deals sensitively with dementia, loneliness, gender issues, relationships, friendships when you least expect it and generosity of spirit.  I loved the kindness of Shannon in dealing with Walter’s hazy memory and dealing with his groaner jokes.  And while Walter is dealing with a world that is closing down, he is able to see her need for a friend who will listen.

Laura Condlln as Shannon and John Dolan as Walter are wonderful. The dialogue is easy banter of people who are actually listening to each other. Condlln plays Shannon as an outwardly buoyant person, watchful of her children and those in the daycare, sensitive to the changing world of gender and identity. Shannon giving instructions to the kids playing across the street are vivid. Condlln also conveys Shannon’s loneliness, loss, confusion and she digs deep to cope with it all. She finds solace in her friendship with Walter. John Doyle as Walter is a mix of charm and irascible. He loves telling a good joke as long as he’s not interrupted and if he is his temper comes in. Walter soldiers on but we sense there are demons that have haunted him and that comes out naturally in the play.

I also thought Steve Ross does a lovely job directing his own play. He  knows the value of a pause, silence, a knowing look or the touch of a hand without being cloying and sentimental. There are a lot of scene changes that are accomplished with each character taking a prop of a jacket, or a ball or a CD out of a box—all done with efficiency and clarity.

goldfish is such an engaging play and compelling production that I was not too distracted by the bunny rabbit that appeared in the distance, hopping across the lawn.

Loved both The Tracksand goldfish (and the bunny).

The Tracks and goldfishplay at the Here for Now Theatre Company’s New Works Festival in Stratford, Ont. until July 25.

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