by Lynn on August 15, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ont.
Written and directed by Robert Winslow
Original music by Justin Hiscox
Costumes by Meredith Hubbard
Cast: Edward Belanger
Kiana Bromley
Cyndi Carleton
Maude Rose Craig
Justin Hiscox
Mark Hiscox
Emma Khaimovich
Gary Reker
Shelley Simester
Robert Winslow
Part history lesson, part confessional in which neither is properly served.

: 4th Line Theatre Company is celebrating its 26th season of producing original Canadian pays that generally focus on the stories and history of the area, towns and townships around the Winslow family farm. 4th Line Theatre is situated on the Winslow family farm in Millbrook, Ont. in Cavan Township.

Past plays have dwelt on stories about the Jewish cottage industry in Pontypool, just up the road, at the beginning of the last century; the animosity of newly arrived Irish of both Catholic and Protestant beliefs; the bank robbers of Havelock; the first phone lines for example.

Bombers: Reaping the Whirlwind, was the first play of this season and was about memories of flying bombers in WWII. The History of Drinking in Cavan, is, well, er, about the history of drinking in Cavan.

The Story. Robert Winslow is our narrator of this history of drinking in Cavan Township. He notes it will not be chronological. So he flits from the 1800s telling of the various bars and taverns in the area to modern times, to the war years and so on. He mentions people who were notable for their drinking in the town of Millbrook and various other locations. He mentions bars and taverns that people who live in the area would know about, etc. It would probably mean nothing to people who live outside that area.

Robert Winslow also has his own personal story that obviously pains him. His mother was an alcoholic and he laments that he was not of help to her as she struggled in her last years. It consumes much of the play once he decides to deal with the story.
Winslow laments that years before he and his father had an argument and Robert Winslow railed at him. Later that day Robert Winslow’s father had a sudden heart attack and died. Winslow notes that years later his mother drank heavily. She needed him and he was not there. He just couldn’t deal with her distress.

The Production. Robert Winslow directs a free-wheeling production that uses the surrounding meadows of the farm, the barn and the various upper reaches of buildings. Children with a mask that covers the face gallop like horses. Another child wearing a costume covered in feathers plays a chicken. The cast is exuberant, especially if playing drunks. There is an embarrassing scene when people in the audience are brought on stage to sit appearing to be involved in the action. It doesn’t work and they just look embarrassed.

Shelley Simester plays several parts but is most affecting as “Mom”, Robert Winslow’s mother. Winslow dropped out of university and drifted until he discovered theatre. Winslow also plays the town drunk, with a flip of his hat and a stagger. Truthfully, there is nothing funny about a town drunk, when he’s just there for humour. Who was the guy? Why did he drink? The play doesn’t answer this. There are scenes with temperance ladies that are played for laughs. Temperance folks were serious if the drinking in the area was so intense. I wish the play dwelt with them better. Robert Winslow is a lively narrator. I just wish the story was better.

Comment. While the history of drinking in the area might be interesting to those who live there, it isn’t to those who don’t. We don’t have a connection and therefore an interest after we hear one fact too many.

And while Winslow’s angst and penance for his treatment of his mother in her years of need are moving, there is so much information that is missing that its just leaves one confused. Can we assume his father was an alcoholic since we are told by one character he had a bottle of rum in his pocket? When did his mother begin to drink? Was it after her husband died? Was it when her husband was drinking himself and she drank too to keep him company? The news of his mother’s drinking seems to just be dropped into the narrative since others didn’t know about it nor do they mention it. Winslow says he went to Al-Anon meetings, meetings for family members who were alcoholic. But later he says he went to an AA meeting too. Does that mean that Robert Winslow is an alcoholic too? He says he’s not when queried in the play. Which is it?

I don’t doubt this is a sensitive subject for Winslow. There is one scene in which he looks so overcome that the stage manager comes out to stop the action. This is so disingenuous it’s painful and embarrassing to watch because it’s fake. Cut that immediately. If this is a story Robert Winslow needed to tell, then perhaps a play is not the right place to tell it.
Produced by 4th Line Theatre

Began: Aug. 7, 2017
Closes: Aug. 26 2017
Cast: 10; 5 men, 5 women
Running Time: 2 hours

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