Review: THE TEAM ON THE HILL (Blyth Festival)

by Lynn on September 1, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Blyth Festival, Blyth, Ont.

Written by Dan Needles

Directed by Severn Thompson

Set and costumes by Kelly Wolf

Lighting by Noah Feaver

Sound by Heidi Chan

Cast: Kurtis Leon Baker

Layne Coleman

Julie Tamiko Manning

Lucy Meanwell

Tony Munch

A very funny, sweet play about father-son relations and how nothing seems to change, it just gets passed on. Layne Coleman is masterful.

Dan Needles writes gentle plays about rural life that has universal appeal. He created the hugely successful Wingfield Farm series of plays about Walt Wingfield who traded the moneyed world of Bay Street for the financially uncertain world of farming.

Needles has been tinkering with his play The Team on the Hill for 20 years and the wait has not caused the play to pass its ‘best by” date because what he’s writing about will never get stale or old. He’s writing about the rivalry of farming fathers and sons. That rivalry can be applied to any father and son duo who work in the same business or industry.

Larry Ransiers (Kurtis Leon Baker) has come home to the family farm from the big city for the summer. He wants to work the family farm with his father one last time to see if they can make the relationship work and to see if farming is for him. Larry was offered a high paying job in the city but farming is in his blood. He has certain ideas about farming but his father Ray (Tony Munch) tends to shoot them down, as happened the last time. Larry was hurt by that experience but wants to try again.

Ray in turn had the same situation happen with his father, Austin (Layne Coleman). Ray had ideas about farming that were at odds with his father. They seemed to work it out. Ray has taken over the farm because Austin is elderly and not in the best healthy mentally or physically. Austin spends his days sitting on the porch commenting, philosophizing and perhaps ribbing his son. Austin is happy to see Larry and his girlfriend Leanne (Lucy Meanwell). Larry’s mother Marion (Julie Tamiko Manning) is also glad Larry and Marion are there too.

Needles creates proud, prickly characters who are hard working, honourable and worry. The fathers have their ideas of how farming should be and the sons have another idea. Having a meeting of the minds is the challenge. Needles has them find their way with hilarious dialogue, observations and compassion.

The cast is dandy but Layne Coleman as Austin is a standout. He’s quirky in his speech patterns, his turns of phrase seem so particular to Austin and you can see the hints of how Austin gave Ray a hard time as they both farmed the land together. Now Ray is giving his own son a hard time.

Severn Thompson directs with a sensitive hand. The pace is languid but not sluggish and the result is a play that can be embraced by both people who work the land and city slickers and all the people in between.

The Blyth Festival Presents:

Began: July 31, 2019.

Closes: Sept. 5, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours approx.

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