Dysfunctional Family Ties
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Divorce, distance, drinking – all the ingredients of an estranged father-son relationship. Not the usual fodder for a Norm Foster comedy. But while Mending Fences provides Foster’s signature quips and quick one-liners, there is also much to think about, when it comes to family dynamics.
This dramedy (drama/comedy) is the season opener at the Globus Theatre, in the Lakeview Arts Barn just south of Bobcaygeon. Globus is celebrating its 20th year with an extended season, kicking things off in early May instead of waiting for all the cottagers to arrive. It was a smaller audience at Wednesday’s opener, but that made for an intimate setting with the three-person cast. The audience could hear the catch in their voices and see the glisten in their eyes, as the story tugged at our heartstrings.
Harry is a Saskatchewan farmer who at one time had a beef cattle ranch. But mad cow disease put an end to that, and now he does odd jobs and janitorial work. He has a girl friend, Gin, who lives on the next farm and they seem to enjoy each other’s company. Gin is known in the community as the woman whose husband killed himself.
Then we learn that Harry’s wife Lori left him years ago when she was offered the opportunity to go back to teaching, which she found preferable to the hard-scrabble life on the farm. When Harry refused to leave the farm, Lori moved out and took their son Drew. After 13 years, Drew shows up at the train station, with stories of his own dysfunctional family.
While the main story is the three characters, Harry, Gin and Drew, the three actors play different characters in flashback scenes. Gin becomes the ex-wife Lori and we see the marriage break up. Harry becomes his own philandering father and Gin becomes Harry’s drunken mother. Drew plays both his teenage self leaving home with his mother, and also young Harry seeing his parents’ failings. The flashbacks occur with a change of lighting, and take the audience through the generational differences.
Mending Fences is another well-directed, well-acted production at the Globus. James Barrett is excellent Harry/Harry’s Father. He’s a curmudgeon with a nasty bite, but Barrett makes Harry’s soft side show so we know he’s not a terrible person. As his neighbour friend Gin, Anna Silvija Broks brings out the best in Barrett’s character. But at the same time, the audience sees her anger at the situation. Broks is perfect at giving us the three different characters – Gin, Lori, and Harry’s Mom, each with her own personality. Ryan Sheedy’s Drew gives us an honest look at a young man, angry at his father, but still hoping for a better relationship. His teenage Drew and young Harry are also very well acted, differentiating the characters.
The set, an aging Prairie farm house kitchen, is well done. It’s obvious that it hasn’t be changed in 13 years. It’s bleak, just like the family that once inhabited it. But we are left not knowing if the future remains bleak. Suicide, alcoholism, adultery, bad parenting and a broken home are not the stuff of entertainment. But I like the fact that it leaves you thinking about family dynamics and what can be improved.
Despite a rather sad story, there are still plenty of laugh-out-loud lines peppered throughout the show. Unlike most Norm Foster comedies, this story is not wrapped up in the final scene and handed to the audience with a bow on top.
What we do see in this play how family dysfunction is passed down through the generations. As the Bible says, the sins of the fathers will be visited on the sons. But with the photo of Drew’s baby creating a bit of warmth, perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for the future.
Mending Fences continues at the Globus Theatre, Lakeview Arts Barn near Bobcaygeon, until May 20. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office at 705-738-2037 or 1-800-304-7897 or visit https://www.lakeviewartsbarn.com/globus-current-season
Photo: Ryan Sheedy as Drew, James Barrett as Harry in Mending Fences.
By Norm Foster
Directed by Sarah Quick
Performed by Anne Silvija Broks, James Barrett, Ryan Sheedy.
Globus Theatre, Lakeview Arts Barn, 2300 Pigeon Lake Road, Bobcaygeon
May 10 to 20, 2023
Reviewed by Mary Alderson