Review: CARMEL from 4th Line Theatre (Millbrook, Ont)

by Lynn on August 22, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ont.

Written by Ian McLachlan and Robert Winslow

Directed by Robert Winslow

Original music composition and Musical Director, Justin Hiscox

Original lyrics by Ian McLachlan

Costume designer, Meredith Hubbard

Set and props by Esther Vincent

Sound by Esther Vincent

Cast: Kevin Bundy

John Godfrey

Asha Hall-Smith

Justin Hiscox

Kristina Nicoll

JD Nicholsen

Melissa Payne

Jonathan Shatzky

Beth Thompson

And many others.

A gentle play with many plot lines that could use solidifying and more depth.

The Story. Walter and Abigail White are a loving couple with three darling children. They all live on a farm but Walter does not work the land. Rather he works on construction sites hauling gravel and using it on roads. Walter takes out a loan, unbeknownst to Abigail, to buy to new horses to do the hauling. Delbert Gray, the dapper but creepy bank manager who loaned Walter the money, comes calling for the monthly payment. He’s got designs on Abigail and could make things easier for her and Walter if she was more ‘accommodating’ to Delbert. As I said, he’s creepy. Then Walter gets hurt on the job and can’t work.

Two men down on their luck, Thomas Fortune and Billy Fiddler, come by looking for work and food. They stay to help out Abigail. Both Thomas and Billy are on their way to Spain to fight in the civil war. Also Billy knows Walter. They both were children under Dr. Barnardo—kids who were shipped to Canada from England to help on farms etc. And there is also reference to the Bonner Worth Woolen Mill strike of 1937. Abigail’s sister Audrey is a staunch social activist and was involved in the strike where tear gas was used. With money worries, Abigail thinks up a plan that just might save them. Lots of goings on in Carmel.

The Production. Esther Vincent has created a simple set that defines the kitchen of Walter and Abigail’s home. Many scenes take place around their table. Director Robert Winslow uses the upper level of one building and the various locations of the barn, the yard and the fields to create a sweep of the place. He has an eye for the grand image: an old time green pickup truck comes roaring around the back of one of the buildings for a good effect. Two beautiful horses are led to the front for another effect. Later they will be used to haul a load. One does wish for smoother transitions from scene to scene. They seem a bit clunky and that drags things down. A trick to fool Delbert Gray into thinking that Abigail was coming to his office when it was really a substantial bearded neighbour in disguise as Abigail, just didn’t make sense at all. Moments that should have been developed are just dealt with in a perfunctory way. Unsatisfying. Perhaps another director would have been more firm with the playwright.

As always the production is a mix of professional actors (Kristina Nicoll is sweet but resourceful as Abigail, Kevin Bundy is a good natured, decent man as Walter and JD Nicholsen is the most wonderfully creepy but dapper Delbert Gray) and those from the community are headed by the spunky Ahsa Hall-Smith as young Ruth White, our narrator.

Justin Hiscox has written original music and songs for the production and Ian McLachlan has written the lyrics—songs about resistance and striking etc. I’m just not sure they are appropriate or helpful to the plot.

Comment. Robert Winslow is to be championed and commended for starting 4th Line Theatre Company all those years ago. He seemed to do it all: write, direct and act in the plays. Then other playwrights and directors were invited in. The plays still dealt with the history of the area around Caven, Millbrook and environs. The plays got deeper especially from the likes of Alex Poch-Goldin, Maja Ardal and Judith Thompson. So it pains me to say that Carmel seems light. There are two references to the Barnardo children pertaining to Walter and Billy and they are fleeting. That just doesn’t seem substantial enough to refer to Carmel as third in the Barnardo children’s series.

So much is unexplored: how did Billy and Thomas meet really and decide they would go to Spain; Abigail solves their monetary problems with a terrific idea and that idea should have been explored more than it is; Walter becomes despondent after a pretty emotional time. He looks like he will kill one of his horses. Why would he do that? Not explained. Frustrating.

4th Line Theatre presents:

Began: Aug. 6, 2019.

Closes: Aug. 31, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.



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