Review: CROW HILL: THE TELEPHONE PLAY (at 4th Line Theatre)

by Lynn on July 26, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ont.

Written by Ian McLachlan and Robert Winslow

Directed by Deb Williams

Musical director, Justin Hiscox

Costumes by Meredith Hubbard

Set and props by James McCoy

Sound by Esther Vincent

Choreographer, Monica Dottor

Cast: Kait Dueck

Mark Kreder

Sarah McNeilly

Courtenay Stevens

Robert Winslow

And many others.

This is an initially charming play (albeit overwritten play), because of its focus on a country doctor who started a small phone company to improve his service to his patients and the switchboard operator who worked for him for 40 years.

 The Story. Doc Logie was frustrated when he lost a patient because he couldn’t get news fast enough that would allow him to rush to his patient and save them. He lost four patients that way. To solve the problem he created a small phone company with four lines, named for each of his dead patients. He hired Alice Cameron when she was just a teen in about 1935 to  be the switchboard operator. She stayed in the job for 40 years, devoted to and perhaps in love with the much older Doc Logie.

The play focuses on the Doc and Alice and stories that revolved around the phone company, with tangential stories about the war and how it took its toll on at least one young man, storms, strikes and the oddball neighbours in the area.

 The Production. As with all the productions that take place at 4th Line Theatre, the audience sits on chairs on risers in the farm yard on Robert Winslow’s family farm. The barn is to our left. Another farm building is in front of us and it is well used for the play’s purposes. The fields and meadows are off to the right, ready to be used for some startling entrance in director Deb Williams’ energetic, lively production. Characters appear in the distance through the tall grass of a field. Doc Logie (Robert Winslow) makes his dramatic entrance driving a Model T-Ford at breakneck speed (or as fast as a car that old can travel) around a building and straight into the barn to park it. Robert Winslow as Doc Logie bursts out of the barn talking a mile a minute about all manner of things. Winslow makes Doc Logie lively, enthusiastic, clear-thinking and optimistic.  He is a man with many ideas—the telephone being a life-line to his patients is one of themSarah McNeilly plays Alice Cameron, the telephone operator, with youthful exuberance and a lot of common sense. She secretly pines for the much older Doc and of course she is devoted to him.  Perhaps her devotion might be that he was there at her and her twin brother Hugh’s birth. The Doc’s affections are also sought by Grace Dyson (a very confident Kait Dueck) and the Doc almost succumbs.

The action of the production is swift and efficient thanks to Deb Williams’ direction. The cast is large and uses many children, several are very young and one is almost a babe in arms.

 Comment. Crow Hill: The Telephone Play was first done at 4th Line Theatre in 1997. It was revived in 2004 (where I first saw it) and again this year. When I first saw it the charm of the location and the sweetness of the story made for an enchanting evening. Now that I have seen it again and looked harder at the play, it seems a bit padded.

The scenes that deal directly with the importance of the telephone to the community in general and Doc Logie in particular are thoughtful and sharply realized. But too often the play veers off into tangential territory and that bogs down the play: Hugh Cameron, Alice’s brother is a terrible alcoholic because of the demons about his time fighting in WWII; There’s a whole scene with a ‘witch’ in the neighbourhood who gives him some medical advice using herbs; there is a short scene when the employees  at a rival phone company go on strike. They want more money. Do we ever hear if they got it? Hurricane Hazel makes an appearance just so that a few patients can fight the blowing wind to get into Doc Logie’s Model T. These scenes that veer off the main theme just make the play longer and not necessarily better. Judicious cutting should have been in order.

Still if you have never been to 4th Line Theatre, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

4th Line Theatre Presents:

 Began: July 3, 2018.

Closes: July 28, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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