Review: THE VERANDAH SOCIETY, from 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ont.

by Lynn on August 26, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at 4th Line Theatre, in the barn yard, Millbrook, Ont. until Aug. 28, 2021.

Created and performed by Megan Murphy and Kate Suhr

Directed by Kim Blackwell

Set by Ian Burns

Sound by Bill Porter and Alan Stanley

Musician, Saskia Tomkins

What do you do if you are a musician and story-teller who are used to performing your show for eager audiences but the pandemic has shut down everything for months and months? If you are story-teller Megan Murphy and her good friend musician Kate Suhr you lament; you grieve, you despair and then you create stories that lift the spirits and write songs that encapsulate what you have been feeling for those isolating months and months. Then you hope to present your creation to perhaps five families who would invite you to their verandahs to hear the songs and stories.  

At least, that was the plan.

Megan Murphy and Kate Suhr reckon they have presented their show, The Verandah Society on 120 verandahs at last count. That show has culminated with an extended run at 4th Line Theatre on the Winslow Farm where they are in residence until Aug. 28. The show is a charmer and it’s presented beautifully.

Ian Burns has designed two spacious verandahs in the barn yard of the farm—one for Megan Murphy and one for Kate Suhr. Each verandah is full of hanging flower pots, comfortable furniture (table and chairs) and the expectation of visitors.

Megan Murphy stole the title for the show, The Verandah Society, from her uncle who was a radio host on a station out of Peterborough. He wrote wonderful stories and called the show The Verandah Society, so Megan Murphy and Kate Suhr decided to (uh) ‘borrow’ the title for their own show, which, considering where they performed the show, was a perfect title.

Murphy’s stories detailed her career in morning radio out of Peterborough. She talked of working the very early morning shift, trying to engage listeners and trying to be interested. She wrote a story about befriending an elderly woman who came to her door with a bible, determined to win Murphy over to the ways of the Lord. Murphy details this event with care, nuance and wonderful humour. She writes about faith and how eager she was to make a friend when she lived in the suburbs with the man she thought she would marry. And she wrote of food, with great gusto and relish. She secreted an Oreo cookie in her pocket. She writes of her love of her nieces and the adventures they experienced. One day they found a sidewalk ‘library’ in which were not only books, but a baggy of old recipe cards. Murphy took them. She read them to us in the process. Wonderful.  Her stories are lovely and human and kind. 

Megan Murphy wore wide-legged tan slacks and a flowy top reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn in the 1940s. But it was Murphy’s saddle shoes that mesmerized me. My late mother always wore saddle shoes when I was a kid growing up. She wore them until they fell apart, brittle and cracked. Then she would get another pair. Have you ever tried finding saddle shoes anywhere today? Impossible. You have to go to the deep recesses of the internet and then pay a fortune. I looked at Megan Murphy’s saddle shoes with longing and sweet memories.

Kate Suhr favoured flowery long dresses which she wore for each of her four songs. Suhr writes of the soul-crushing emotions of the pandemic; how she and we coped or not. She sang of living slower and with more care. She has a lovely, sweet voice, a calming stage demeanor and a wonderful rapport with Megan Murphy.

They are joined by musician Saskia Tomkins on violin and cello. Murphy calls her a “magical creature.” Absolutely right. Her playing and music are infectious. Trying NOT to tap your toe when she plays, is futile.

Director Kim Blackwell does her usual magic by staging each performer in a seamless manner. Nothing is jarring and the space is used as naturally as if we were on a verandah for a cup of lemonade. Each line is delivered with nuance and heart.

A quibble about the piece—we are all so grateful to be back as are the two performers, that they might go on a teeny bit past the need to express how glad they are to be back. A bit of a snip here and there would strengthen the piece. But as I said, a quibble.

The loyal 4th Line Theatre audience gathered, masked and packed the place. We were all handed a seat cushion and a program. Before the show we were offered an icepack of a baggy in which was a sponge (I think) sopping with water and then frozen. A lovely idea. And when we left we were offered a recipe from a basket, like the recipes that Murphy found in the street-library. 4th Line Theatre is back with a wonderful show and the same care they show to audiences as always.

4th Line Theatre presents:

Plays until Aug. 28.

Running time: 100 minutes.

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