by Lynn on April 5, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

The Ravine

At the Seneca Queen Theatre, Niagara Falls, Ont. Written and directed by George F. Walker. Designed by David Hewlett. Lighting by Kirsten Watt. Sound by Ethan Rising. Starring: Wes Berger, Sarah Murphy-Dyson,  Bruce Gooch, Julia Heximer, Dana Puddicombe, William Vickers, Karen Wood.

Produced by  Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects. Plays until April 13.

Kelly Daniels is one resourceful theatre artist. Not only did she create Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects several years ago, of which she is the Artistic Director, but she also cast the productions with solid actors from both Shaw and Stratford. She also directed many of the company’s productions. For a few years she found a home for the company in St. Catharines but recently moved to the Seneca Queen Theatre in a funky part of Niagara Falls. Her most recent coup was being able to premiere a new play from Canadian playwright icon, George F. Walker, entitled The Ravine. As such the production has gotten some notoriety. I just wish the play and the production were better.

The play opens in a ravine, in which Michelle Gayle is explaining how her former husband, Oscar Wallace, treated her and their children badly; how he’s a terrible person with addictions. After years of difficulty Michelle is forced to live in the ravine. And after years of taking Oscar’s abuse she’s decided to put a stop to him. She involves her fellow homeless person, Parnell, into a dangerous plan.

Oscar is also a crack-smoking, liquor swilling man who has an ex-con hit man in his circle who is used to get rid of annoying people Oscar does not want to deal with. Oscar is not above bending the law for his own gain. And Oscar is running for Mayor.

Of course this all sounds familiar if one lives in Toronto and/or watches late-night American TV talk-shows who are having a field day skewering Toronto Mayor Rob Ford with his various abuses and his own potty mouthed lingo. But in a sad way it doesn’t make The Ravine funny or relevant. Jon Stewart on the Daily Show taking pot shots at Mayor Rob Ford in a 10 minute monologue slams our less than upstanding Mayor with more wit, satire and perception than George F. Walker’s slight play does. Perhaps Walker intended this to be a farce? No matter, it doesn’t work.

Mr. Walker has spent a few years writing for television and this play shows it. The Ravine is really a television sit-com. The characters are written with little depth: the totally evil bully running for mayor; the mentally unstable man who could go off the rails at any minute; the ruthless barracuda of an assistant who will cut down anyone in her way. The unbelievable storyline. And referencing a homeless woman and a mentally unstable man does not give the play depth if the issues aren’t explored.

Then there is the direction. George F. Walker does double duty here because he also directs. That is so unfortunate. Mr. Walker seems to believe that “faster-louder” is an effective stage direction. It isn’t. There seems to be little room for subtlety and surely characters should have it in a play.

While black-outs between scenes are instantaneous in television, in the The Ravine they are interminable. They literally stop the show’s momentum, if it ever had any at all. There are three playing areas of David Hewlett’s set. Walsh’s living room, stage right; a park bench, centre stage, and Michele Gayle’s make-shift shelter in the ravine. When a scene ends in one location there is a blackout for several seconds, with loud, throbbing rock music as an accompaniment, so that characters can get into place for the next scene. Perhaps the attempt of the music is to suggest urgency. It fails. If the audience is in the dark for that long the pace is stopped and no amount of music can change that. In the few instances where the lights dimed in one scene and immediately went up in another where the actors were already in place, we get the sense of how fluid one scene can flow into another without interruption. In The Ravine that seamless flow from one scene to another is all too rare.

The cast works very hard acting louder-faster. As Oscar Wallace, Bruce Gooch gives the appearance of a fit, attractive politician when in the public eye. When at home, Walker has him smoking from a bong pipe and drinking liquor from the bottle.  I’m intrigued to see what Gooch could do with that part if given half a chance and better dialogue. As Finn Kagan, the hit-man with a heart, Wes Berger is quietly imposing. As Cassie Franz, the barracuda assistant with higher aspirations, Sarah Murphy-Dyson starts at level 10 of fury and then ramps it up. She does convey how scary that kind of person can be in politics. Parnell is not only homeless, he is mentally unbalanced, and William Vickers practically twirls himself into a frenzy conveying that. The character of Lesley is the pregnant partner of Cassie. Dana Puddicombe plays Lesley with an understated grace that is refreshing. Also refreshing is Karen Wood as Michele Gayle, the wronged ex-wife of Oscar Wallace. She has an eye-popping secret. Wood plays Gayle as the voice of reason, and gives the most varied performance in the production.

If The Ravine is to have another life I would suggest a re-write and a different director. As for Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects I was glad to take the trip to see their new digs. I hope next time it’s a better play and production.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.