Where the Heart Is

Rousingly Beautiful, This Show Touches your Heart  

Reviewed by Holly Wenning

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a production at Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia, and I loved how different, poignant, and thoughtful this show was. Where the Heart Is continues on stage at VPP until June 25.

Director David Hogan opened the preshow, telling us that this was originally a one-act play he and his company had seen long before Covid. They approached the playwright and asked to workshop it into a two-act show for Petrolia’s audiences. The result was a world premier for the theatre group, and “the Davids” have every right to be proud of the show they created. (Co-Artistic Directors David Hogan and David Rogers.)

I was very familiar with one of the two actors in the show, Alex Baerg, but have never seen Leah Grandmont onstage and was not aware she was a violinist other than the information in the program. I was amazed at the musical talent of both actors. However, the biggest surprise was Leah’s acting and singing.

It’s interesting to note that the creative team who wrote this new show are both familiar to audiences in southern Ontario. Mark Weatherley has been popular on stage at the VPP, appearing as the hapless Reverend in two of the Church Basement Ladies comedies, as Felix in The Odd Couple, and in the spoof 39 Steps, among others. Kale Penny has been on Drayton Entertainment stages, known for his excellent singing. He starred in Newsies in Grand Bend and Rock of Ages in Cambridge. Last summer he played Tommy DeVito in The Jersey Boys at Thousand Island Playhouse in Gananoque.

The show is a simple premise: two people meet on a street corner. One is a busker with sage advice, and one is a musician that is searching for a new career when the pressure of being a professional violinist became overwhelming. Throughout the first act we wait for the full story of why Leah’s character gave up the violin, and are finally treated to a masterful piece of storytelling. She never fell into the sappy mistake of producing tears, but let us tear up instead. There are beautiful songs played by Alex on the guitar and playful verbal sparing. The movement and basic set design were just enough and yet very clever. I left for intermission with a smile in my heart and an excitement to see what the second act would bring.

The second act was strong until it was too long, (in my opinion only).

Leah’s character returns with her violin, where Alex finds her busking at his street corner. It was obvious that the VPP regulars were waiting for this and they loved both of the actors playing together and remaining in character.

Another personal critique is that they sang a beautiful duet  with their bodies close together called “Where the Heart Is” near the end of the second act. It appeared that this was the end to me. There was a moment of beautiful romantic tension … and then they broke into a rousing version of Carmen. It was brilliantly played, but I longed for the theatrical payoff.

I won’t spoil the ending, but it is not what anyone expects, and perhaps that is what the director planned all along. Unpredictable theatre is often better than the predictable, and it is a choice the playwright or director makes with intention.

Where The Heart Is is a wonderful and thoughtful show, and I recommend the drive to Petrolia! 

Where the Heart Is continues at Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia until June 25 with 2:00 p.m. matinees only, except a 7:30 show June 23. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or http://thevpp.ca/

Photo: Leah Grandmount and Alex Baerg. Photo by Diane O’Dell.

Where the Heart Is
Book by Mark Weatherley
Music and Lyrics by Kale Penny
Directed by David Hogan
Musical Director Mark Payne
Performed by Alex Baerg and Leah Grandmount
Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia
June 6 to 25, 2023
Reviewed by Holly Wenning

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