The Beaver Club

The Birth of a Canadian Classic

Reviewed by Sookie Mei

The world premiere of Barb Scheffler’s comedy The Beaver Club is simply a revelation.  Well-written, beautifully acted, expertly directed, with a modest yet effective set and excellent lighting, it all adds up to an instant Canadian theatre classic.  The audience on opening night agrees, with one patron, Bob Henderson from Port Stanley, enthusing that he had “been to over 100 summer theatre shows, and this is in the top 10.  It was consistently funny!”  Edit: After playing at PSFT in August 2023, it’s back for a return engagement until June 1, 2024.

No doubt about it, Scheffler’s script is funny with a capital F.  The clever writing, with a great mix of situational comedy and jokes, has the audience laughing from the get-go.  The bawdy humour that one would expect with a title like The Beaver Club is frequent, but suitable for a summer show crowd, so never off-putting.  In fact, it is refreshing to hear a group of women talk openly about sex, go skinny dipping, crack some That’s What She Said jokes, and discuss masturbation (with one character encouraging another to, “Snap one off whenever you want!”) on stage, in a very realistic manner.  As usual, a couple of swear words onstage get the biggest laughs, everyone finds farts funny, and you can see a few of the jokes and plotlines coming a mile away, but they still land with aplomb.

A straightforward plot – a group of neighbours decide to go on a road trip to Newfoundland – allows the characters to shine through, and each of the four women is distinct and layered.  Karen, possibly ironically named, is the perfectionist friend that you want to plan your road trip, played with subtlety and veracity by Rennie Wilkinson.  Susan JohnstonCollins plays Eunice, a native Newfoundlander with an old secret she is not sure she wants to confront, and her Down East accent and “bay Jaysus” utterances are fun, but she brings the real emotion when needed, with actual tears in her eyes during a heartfelt scene.  The role of Yvette is portrayed by Danielle Nicole, with a broad French accent that works well, and a glint in her eye when she describes making out in a church as a teen.  The standout performer is Sarah Machin Gale as Radiance, a kombucha-drinking hippy that leans into karma and the universe, but can also fix an overheated car.  She also has a hilarious running joke about the famous people she knows, but she doesn’t realize they are famous.  On opening night, the actors seemed a little performative at the top of the show, speaking more to the audience than to each other, but this dissolved quickly. The script and the acting combine to elevate the characters beyond stereotypes, and each woman has a spotlight moment for presenting hard-hitting truths amongst the many laughs.

Associate Artistic Director Liz Gilroy’s direction is confident and masterful.  With a road trip scenario, it would be easy to fall into repetition and recycled movement, but Gilroy keeps the show running smoothly and dynamically, and we always know where the characters are in their journey.  She lets the actors breathe, not rushing the quieter, introspective moments, but also lets them run loose with the quick dialogue and humour.  The direction incorporates excellent timing, nicely realized by the whole cast.

A lean set of four chairs at a kitchen table and a bar with two stools is used effectively, morphing into the car that takes the group out East.  Karen Crichton’s lighting is natural and indicative of the various settings along the way.  A brilliant aspect of this production is the three circles hung behind the set that project constantly-changing images aligning with the plot, such as maps and signs showing where the women are at each point on their trip.  The images change to fun colours and lights in between scenes, and are used wonderfully near the end of the show to recap what happened off-stage.  There are even some jokes shared via the projections, and Eric Bunnell and Joe Recchia are to be commended on their seamless blending of set and narrative.

The between-scene music is upbeat – Cindi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, as an example – and gets more Canadian and Maritime as the women drive East.  It’s easy to tell that the audience is in a great mood when they are clapping along, even singing at some points, with the general feeling of mirth in a crowd that is enjoying the play.

Port Stanley Theatre Festival found this gem of a show at their Playwright’s Festival, a new play generator that encourages Canadian writers, with Artistic Director Simon Joynes helping to see the script through to production.  This reviewer would be surprised if the show, a modern, female-forward take on the typical summer theatre standby, does not get produced across the country for the next few decades.  A cross-Canada road trip is just what this production deserves!

The Beaver Club continues at the Port Stanley Festival Theatre (PSFT) until June 1.  Tickets are available at the PSFT box office at 519-782-4353 or 1-855-782-4353, or visit

Photo: (clockwise from bottom left): Danielle Nicole, Sarah Machin Gale, Susan JohnstonCollins, and Rennie Wilkinson

The Beaver Club
Written by Barb Scheffler
Directed by Liz Gilroy
Lighting Design by Karen Crichton
Set Design by Eric Bunnell
Stage Managed by Erin Cunningham
Performed by Susan JohnstonCollins, Sarah Machin Gale, Danielle Nicole, and Rennie Wilkinson
Port Stanley Festival Theatre, Bridge Street, Port Stanley
August 2 to 19, 2023
Return Engagement: May 21 to June 1, 2024
Reviewed by Sookie Mei


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