by Lynn on February 17, 2011

in Archive

At Theatre Passe Muraille. Created by Georgina Beaty, Charlotte Corbeil Coleman, Layne Coleman, Greg Gale and Jonathan Seinen. Directed by Charlotte Corbeil Coleman. Set and lights by Steve Lucas. Performed by Georgina Beaty, Greg Gale and Jonathan Seinen. Developed by Architect Theatre. Produced by Theatre Passe Muraille.

HIGHWAY 63: THE FORT MAC SHOW is about people tending their gardens, being good neighbours, making a living, flirting, loneliness, finding love, trying to save the environment and the Alberta oil sands disaster, among other things.

 In true Passe Muraille style, a theatre company of five wanted to make a play about this ecological disaster and went to Fort McMurray to interview people living there, hear their stories, and then shape them into the play. The play is performed by three of the five: Georgina Beaty, Greg Gale, and Jonathan Seinen. Layne Coleman is one of the creators. His gifted daughter Charlotte Corbeil Colman, directs.

At first there is no mention of the oil sands. There are stories of the people who live there and think their city is beautiful. They plant and tend their gardens. They shop for groceries. They go to bars and have fun. Visitors find the place beautiful as well. People come from far and wide to work there—for the energy industry—because the pay is very good. From scientists, who are trying to solve ecological problems, to ordinary truck drivers who haul stuff away, they leave their families to sign up for long contracts. The fantastic pay is the lure.  

HIGHWAY 63 focuses on the human, often funny stories of mainly three people. Steve is a scientist working on the oil sands to solve ecological problems. Chad is from Newfoundland and is on a contract driving a truck. He rents a room in Steve’s rented house. For all his bravado he is intensely lonely but won’t go back home because that would be considered a failure.  Mary is native to Fort McMurray but dreams of moving to Toronto to go school to be a modern dancer. At first Steve is sweet on Mary. Chad eggs him on to approach her and ask her for a date. Steve is shy and awkward. Chad is bold and assertive in his efforts to get Steve to make a move. In the end though it’s Chad and Mary who end up together. 

As Steve, Jonathan Seinen is sweet, understated, and without edge. He creates a gentle kind of guy who is passed over by the girl for a bolder suitor.

As Mary, Georgina Beaty has a fearlessness that is compelling. And as Chad, Greg Gale is hugely inventive, rubber-boned and a wonderful physical clown. And when you least expect it, he shows how deeply lonely Chad is. All three are endearing performers. They are directed with invention, wit and imagination by Charlotte Corbeil Colman.

As these bitter-sweet, gentle stories evolve, it is the oil sands that are always in our face. Designer Steve Lucas has created a simple set with a deceptive floor covering of light brown cork.  Every time a chair is moved over the floor covering it clears a path revealing black underneath. When Chad wipes his boots on the covering, as he comes into the house, the brown cork is brushed away and black is revealed–the oil in the sand.

How the oil is in the sand is likened to a multi-layered cake. How to remove the oil and then restore the environment is also explained. It’s chillingly clear that restoring the environment is not all that simple.

There are no villains in this play. There is no hectoring or lecturing about who is to blame. There is humour, heart, thought, intelligence, balance and fairness. “Keep it light” was a bit of advice the group received. And they did. It’s also thought-provoking and important.

 HIGHWAY 63: THE FORT MAC SHOW plays at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace until Feb. 26, 2011.


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