Reviews: So, how’s it been? and The Wonder of it All, in Stratford, Ont.

by Lynn on August 20, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live, in person under the canopy in the back lawn of the Bruce Hotel, Stratford, Ont. as part of the Here for Now Theatre, New Works Festival.

So, how’s it been?

Created by writer-director Liza Balkan and composer/musical director, Paul Shilton

Additional songs by Katherine Wheatley and Bruce Horak

Cast: Barb Fulton,

Evanglia Kambites

Marcus Nance

Trevor Patt

Liza Balkan, writer-director-Stratford resident began a project in the summer of 2020, interviewing people who live and work in Stratford to see how they were doing in the pandemic. She interviewed business owners, employees, artists, nurses, retirees, kids, farmers, actors, and parents. Then she and composer-musical director Paul Shilton put those words from the conversations into songs. Liza Balkan also directed this bringing out the nuance and subtleties of each song.

So, how’s it been? is the result, a song cycle of how people coped during the pandemic; the highs, lows, in-betweens; the stuff that was funny, sad, odd, curious, interesting and eye-opening. While we hear the words from the actual interviews and then the songs they formed, it was the performers who made the immediate connection with their recollections.

Barb Fulton looked on this as a little break—at the beginning of the pandemic. She described having a tightness in her chest, wondering if she even wanted to perform anymore. As the pandemic lasted longer and longer that idea changed. Could she even do it anymore. She is such an engaging singer/performer, one hopes she wants to continue performing. Certainly the show afforded her an opportunity to find out for sure.

Trevor Patt had plans to buy a house and a dog and……But then the pandemic happened. Jobs were lost, money was tight. Puppies need to eat. He sang and played his guitar with a quiet self-deprecation and quiet humour.  

Marcus Nance and Evangelia Kambites are two terrific singer/actors. They imbue their songs with heart, nuance and humour. They also bring a different perspective most of us do not experience: they are two Black actors in a white town and in their recollections they talk about subtle and not so subtle racism. Marcus Nance owns a house in Stratford and loves to garden, and when the flies are particularly bad he wears a ‘hoodie’ to protect himself while he works in his garden. He talked of people who have seen him on stage and praised him and see him in his garden and assume he is working a second job and not tending his garden of his house.

Evangelia Kambites talks of walking her dog at night when a man in a pickup truck drove by and rolled down his window and called out, “That’s a cute dog.” ‘Ordinarily’ this would seem like someone being a jerk and we would slough it off. But Kambites is a Black woman walking her dog at night in a white town and the call out the window is not innocuous; it’s dangerous and puts her on alert. These are two stories that put the majority of us in their world just for a sobering short period of time. Something of which to be mindful.

The group sings of the geese, the damned geese. They used a stronger word, more appropriate, but I won’t use it here. And what these geese leave all over the place to slip and slide in and mess up the area. They all sing of frustrations, fears, claustrophobia, not being able to visit a loved one in a long-care facility.

They expressed the joys they found in the time they had. Marcus Nance loved the time at home in Stratford with his husband. He talked of the joy of that personal time, eating a delicious breakfast of croissants, scrambled eggs, bacon and the very best coffee, and described it with such intoxicating reverie, I almost forgot myself, wanting to put up my hand and ask for his address, to invite myself next time.

Barb Fulton sang a wonderfully poignant song of a woman whose husband has dementia and she was desperate to keep him at home and not have to put him in a ‘home’ because then she wouldn’t see him often.

So, how’s it been? is a beautifully crafted show of dealing with the pandemic in all its good and bad ways. And it’s created by artists who will not be stopped in creating. Lovely work.

Here For Now Theatre, New Works Festival presents:

Plays until: September 5, 2021.

Running Time: 1 hour, no intermission.

The Wonder of it All

Written by Mark Weatherley

Directed by Seana McKenna

Cast: Monique Lund

Mark Weatherley

Charmaine and Kingsley met at a party. She was classy, sophisticated and confident. He wore a silly hat and played the ukulele. He was nerdy, old-fashioned and ‘slightly out of tune.’ She wasn’t interested until one time she was in distress and sat on a stoop in the rain and he sat right with her, stroking her hair, silently telling her with that gesture, it would be ok.

They got married of course. That kind of consideration is not to be ignored. Twenty-five years later there is trouble in the marriage. They snipe, argue, get exasperated and frustrated. I’m reminded of a card I got once with a quote from Lillian Hellman: “People change and forget to tell each other.” And of course how do you even begin to talk about it. Temptation is introduced. How will this resolve itself?

Mark Weatherley has written a funny, sweet play about communication, the rocky road to love and marriage, commitment and the importance of sitting beside someone you love, in the rain, getting soaked but stroking her hair to tell her it will be ok.

Weatherley also plays Kingsley in it with Monique Lund who plays Charmaine. Lund also happens to be Mark Weatherley’s wife. The two have a chemistry that is obvious. Their banter seems to have been honed to a sheen over years of bantering. They flip lines off each other as two people who are familiar with each other can and know the other’s timing.

As Charmaine, Lund is sophisticated, a bit exasperated by Kingsley, and frustrated by the stall in their marriage. As Kingsley, Weatherley brings a sweet goofiness to the part, as Kingsley was all those years ago. That goofiness is Kingsley’s protection. He knows there is trouble in the marriage. He so wants it to work but is at a loss about getting that feeling back. Love always finds a way.

Director Seana McKenna works with the chemistry of her two actors and uses her acting smarts to realize the nuance and shading of this relationship. She has created a delicate production in which we cheer for and urge these two characters to work hard to talk to each other and go back to what it was that attracted them in the first place.

Weatherley has such an irreverent way with a line. He talks about regret at a missed opportunity,  and quotes that famous line from Casablanca  (which I will not quote here—see the show and you’ll know), and we know it will be ok. They will always have the ukulele.

Here for Now Theatre New Works Festival:

Plays until: September 5, 2021.

Running Time: 1 hour, no intermission.

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