A Canadian in Kansas
Outlaw, now on stage at Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia, is not your usual Norm Foster fare. Instead of a comedy based on relationship problems, Outlaw is a Western who-done-it. While it’s a departure from the usual Norm Foster comedies that rely on witty banter, Outlaw still provides lots of laughs, as the audience enjoys a shoot‘em-up-cowboy show with a mystery.
The year is 1871: A Canadian has travelled to the southern U.S. to find ranch work to support his wife and daughter back home because the Farmer’s Almanac predicts rough weather and bad farming in Manitoba. On his way home, travelling through Kansas, he is accused of murder by a ranch hand and the local sheriff threatens to hang him. “We hang murderers and horse-thieves like…Christmas ornaments,” the Canadian is told. The brother of the murder victim, an educated, rich and powerful ranch owner also wants to hang the Canadian who keeps professing his innocence.
Although it’s set in the 1800s, Foster creates the comedy around Canadian-American differences that are relevant today. Interestingly, the Canadian in the story doesn’t carry a gun, and obviously doesn’t believe in capital punishment. In the midst of the comedy there is also an interesting discussion on religion.
Walter Learning reprises his role as Roland Keets, looking like a cross between Colonel Sanders and the late William Hutt of Stratford Festival fame. Learning is a long-time veteran of Canadian theatre and his experience is evident. Darren Keay is perfect as the hapless Canadian Bob Hicks. He appears bewildered when accused of murder and is suitably perplexed by the unusual circumstances.
We know Michael Vanhevel can sing, but this is the first time we’ve really seen him act. And he did not disappoint. In fact, he excels in the challenging role of Will Vanhorne, trying to be intimidating but at the same time showing he has a conscience. Michael Hogeveen also expands his experience taking on a less farcical role and doing well.
The set appears to look more like the badlands of Nevada than the plains of Kansas, but the “hanging” tree (complete with noose) and “hanging” rock were very realistic and worked well.
Over the years, Norm Foster’s plays have been a staple at Victoria Playhouse, as they are at many summer theatres across Canada. Foster is Canada’s most prolific playwright with more than 50 titles to his name. Outlaw came out in 2004 and has been produced many times. However, this is the first time that David Hogan and David Rogers have produced and directed a Norm Foster play since becoming co-artistic directors at Victoria Playhouse in 2012. With the success of this funny, yet thought-provoking Foster play, perhaps we’ll see more of his comedies in the future.
Outlaw continues at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until August 14. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or 519-882-1221 for tickets or visit www.thevpp.ca
Photo: Michael Hogeveen, Darren Keay, Walter Learning & Michael Vanhevel. Photo by Diane O’Dell.
By Norm Foster
Directed by David Hogan
Performed by Walter Learning, Michael Hogeveen, Darren Keay, and Michael Vanhevel.
Guitar and harmonica by Randy Rektor
Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia
August 4 to 16, 2015
Reviewed by Mary Alderson