Review: HAVING HOPE AT HOME, and THE LONELY DINER: Al Capone in Euphemia Township

by Lynn on August 4, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were broadcast on Friday, August 3, 2012 on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING CIUT 89.5FM: HAVING HOPE AT HOME and THE LONELY DINER: Al CAPONE IN EUPHEMIA TOWNSHIP, both at the Blyth Festival in Blyth Ontario.

The guest host was Mahsa Alimardani

1) It’s time for our regular theatre reviews with Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. Hi Lynn. What do you have for us today?

I went to the Blyth Festival in Blyth, Ontario to see two plays. They are: HAVING HOPE AT HOME and THE LONELY DINER: Al Capone in Euphemia Township. I love this festival.

Blyth is a little town near Stratford that has a summer festival of original Canadian plays—often commissioned by the Blyth Festival. And it’s hugely successful. The theatre was pretty full for both productions. I think that’s terrific.

2. Ok. Let’s start with HAVING HOPE AT HOME. What’s the story?

Caroline and Michel live together on a farm owned by Caroline’s grandfather, Russell. Russell is a lonely widower in fragile health and Caroline comes to live with and take care of him bringing her partner Michel with her. Michel is a farmer with great new ideas and the farm is prosperous. The couple are going to have a baby. Caroline wants to have a home birth with a mid-wife. The problem is that Caroline’s father is head of Obstetrics at the local hospital. She has not seen her parents for three years. There are issues.

But Caroline has invited her folks to supper and this is a big deal–she usually cancels such things but she’s determined that’s not going to happen. However, she goes into labour during their meal and tries to hide it from her parents.

We also see that Caroline’s father Bill and his father Russell also have issues. Feelings of inadequacy, abandonment, resentment, disappointment and lack of communication affect Caroline and her family. And of course things come to a head when everybody realizes that Caroline is in labour and that baby is coming.

3) Obviously a comedy. What do you think of it as a play?

This play premiered at the Blyth Festival in 2003 and is being brought back in a brand new production.

It’s written by David S. Craig who usually writes plays for kids, young teens etc. This one seems a change of pace, but his usual care and humour suffuse the play. His writing is sound, very funny because Craig has written situations we can identify with and he’s created characters we know.

Russell is irascible and frustrated at his arthritic hands and his inability to do much of what he used to do. His son Bill is serious, agitated when he doesn’t get his way, and obviously desperate for his irascible father’s approval.

Caroline’s mother Jane doesn’t go anywhere without lipstick. She has a rigid vision of how things should be and often it’s funny without her knowing it. And of course Caroline is very pregnant, in labour and she’s trying to grin, bear it and hide everything from her parents. She is a woman who is comfortable in her skin and her life, and everything tips when the folks come.

4) Does the production do justice to the play?

I think so. It’s directed by Leah Cherniak and she knows her way around comedy and funny situations. The challenge is to do justice to the seriousness of the situations and also to bring out the comedy without tipping it one way or another. And Cherniak and her cast keep that balance.

The production is very funny and moving. As Caroline, Haley McGee has an easy way, comfortable in that loving home, anxious when her folks are there. As her uptight father Bill, Michael Spencer Davis is clench-jawed serious.

And he too is uptight around his father—Bill is a leading doctor, but an insecure kid around his stern father. And as Dawn the mid-wife, Marion Day is wonderfully relaxed and welcoming and can handle Bill’s put downs about mid-wifery with grace.

5) And I think now for something completely different THE LONELY DINER: AL CAPONE IN EUPHEMIA TOWNSHIP. What’s the story here?

Yes completely different. The play is written by Beverly Cooper. During Prohibition it was rumoured that Al Capone, that gangster among gangsters often visited Ontario checking on his rum-running business. He had deals with people to let him store his liquor in their barns etc. so that they could then be shipped to places who wanted his product. Ron, a poor farmer was one of them. His wife Lucy ran the local diner. But one day Lucy was visited by a dapper man who said his car broke down and needed something to drink and eat.
Her husband was out. She was alone with her teenaged daughter. The man ended up making her pasta from scratch. He was a henchman for—Al Capone who also arrived to eat the pasta. Dapper, beautifully dressed, knew food and how to make it well and loved opera.

Lucy is starved for adventure and loved the food. Initially she welcomed them. But Al said that he was being double crossed by someone and he was there to check.

It’s pretty shattering when we find out who was doing the double dealing. Beverley Cooper has written a play that is gripping and complex.

6) How is it complex? It’s about the crushing nature of loneliness and disappointment. Lucy is very lonely in that diner and that marriage. She is star struck with Al. But she does something that jeopardizes the safety of her family. There is no doubt from this play that many lives and relationships are shattered by what Lucy does.

And we get such a vivid picture of the well dressed Al Capone. He appreciates everything in life that Lucy has no clue about; clothes; food and opera. It’s just that he makes a living illegally and he kills people.

7) And how is the production?

Terrific. It’s directed by Ann Hodges. She moves her actors with assurance. And I love how she establishes the tension in this production loaded with it.

Set and costumes by Sue LePage, the suits for Capone and his henchman (Mr. Mascarpone) are to die for. Fitted to within an inch of their lives. With a set that is properly shabby next to the dapper guys.

As Lucy, Catherine Fitch is at first wary and short with Mr. Mascapone. But eager to be in their company when she realizes that Capone is there too. Lucy is thoughtless and bitter for most of the production, but Fitch finds her despair when Lucy realizes what she has done.

And as Capone, Michael Spencer Davis is the picture of power—hair slicked back; suit perfectly immaculate and well fitted; with body language that swaggers and knows how to make people afraid.

There is a lot to chew on with these two plays. Well worth the trip to Blyth to see them.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our Theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

HAVING HOPE AT HOME plays at the Blyth Festival until August 18.

THE LONELY DINER: Al Capone in Euphemia Township plays at the Blyth Festival until Aug. 25.

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