by Lynn on November 22, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Empty Fishing Net

Live, in person at the CAA Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Playwright, Bernardine Stapleton

Adapter, Steve Cochrane

Original concept and music curation by Walter Schroeder

Musical arrangements by Jesse Grandmont

Additional arrangement by Bob Hallett and Paul Kinsman

Directed by Brad Hodder

Musical direction by Kelly-Ann Evans and Josh Ward

Choreography by Victoria Wells-Smith

Set by Gillian Gallow

Lighting by Leigh Ann Vardy

Sound by Pat Dempsey

Costumes by Sara Hodder

Cast: Liam Eric Dawson

Julia Dunne

Kelly-Ann Evans

Philip Goodridge

Vicki Harnett

Seana-Lee Wood

Duff MacDonald

Erin Mackey

Steve Maloney

Melanie O’Brien

Steve Ross

Renée Strasfeld

The music is spirited as is the singing, but the script meanders and needs tightening and a clearer vision as to why you are telling the story in the first place.

The Story. Welcome to another part of “the Rock” (Newfoundland), not a part found in Come From Away.

No Change in the Weather takes place in 1990, in God’s Back Pocket, Newfoundland, an almost deserted part of the island. Peggy O’Brien has died but before she has her ‘real’ funeral, her son Bill and several of Peggy’s friends steal her body in the coffin and take it to God’s Back Pocket, to Peggy’s former shack of a home for a wake. There are coolers full of appropriate beverages for such an endeavor, and enough people with enough stories about Peggy to pass the time. Peggy is our narrator. We get the sense Peggy is controlling most of what is going on there. She feels that every person there has a secret that they have kept inside too long and now is the time to spill their guts and get on with living. Jade, Peggy’s friend was jilted at the alter years before by James “Sonny Boy” O’Brien—Peggy’s son and the cause of much rancor in the family and the community. James was involved in the disastrous negotiations regarding the Churchill Falls Hydro Project debacle.  Jade’s daughter Liza is there. She’s a journalist, who does not know who her father is. Johnny is an alcoholic who is knitting his sobriety scarf. It’s very long. His secret is poignant. Sally Brown seems to be a ‘witchy-woman’ with her ‘ugly stick’ who conjures spirits who are ready to take Peggy to the next ‘world’. But first guts must be spilled and lively songs must be song.

The Production.  The creative team involves some top-notch creators: Gillian Gallow (set) Leigh Ann Vardy (lighting), Pat Dempsey (sound). Why then does this production look so chintzy? The cabin is a non-descript wood wall with a door up there and a step down, Peggy’s casket has some decorations but that’s it.

At times it seems that directing 12 people on a smallish stage was more like director Brad Hodder was directing traffic, hoping no one bumped into anyone. So much of the staging was pedestrian with out depth. And with 12 characters, each with their own issues, that too seemed like it was an effort to pack the show with meaning. One knitted one’s eyebrows towards the end when the last character was introduced that added another political point. One longed for judicious cutting.

No Change in the Weather is a jukebox musical, meaning that the music used is composed of already established songs, many of which are traditional and many created by such Newfoundland/Labrador composers as: Alan Doyle (“Heavy Nets), Ron Hynes (with Murray McLauchlan) (“No Change in the Weather” “Sonny’s Dream”—Hynes alone), Alistair MacGillivray (“Sea People”). The cast sing the score beautifully.

Playwright Bernardine Stapleton and adapter Steve Cochrane have packed the text full of the flavour of Newfoundland expressions, aphorism and turns of phrases. One has to keep up trying to hear/understand it all. As Peggy, Kelly-Ann Evans is sparky, confident, and commands attention—well, yeah, she’s the guest of honour at the wake. Bill O’Brien is a disappointed man and devoted son, and that comes through in Steve Ross’ performance. He’s serious, attentive and briming with concern. Steve Ross sings the plaintive song “Heavy Nets” with all the sadness that song needs—an empty net to a fisherman must be like death. All that comes through in the song.

At 2 hours and 30 minutes No Change in the Weather needs to be tightened considerably. For example, there is a bit of business involving the character of Johnny (Steve Maloney) and a giant hair ball that is stretched long past any semblance of humour. The silliness of what Johnny does in that scene damages the character.

Comment. No Change in the Weather first appeared in 2019 in a tour and has been re-written. More work needs to be done. The piece almost seems like it has a split personality: on the one hand, in Act I there are the jolly, irreverent people wanting to send Peggy off in style and on the other, Act II the angry, grudge-carrying, disappointed people of the community still fuming over a terrible deal and blame James for the debacle. They wrangle, snipe, hurl insults and take their anger out on each other. It’s the story of a resources-rich province with lousy luck in the people who handled their negotiations. The good people of Newfoundland have watched their fishing rights disappear along with the fish upon which they depended. Seven pages of the programme are devoted to detailing the many twists and turns of the history of Churchill Falls. Perhaps the show should have been about that alone instead of spreading it all over the place.  

Produced by Terrabruce Productions, presented by Mirvish Productions.

Plays until: Nov, 27, 2021.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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