Float Comfortably with Norm Foster’s Come Down From Up River

Norm Foster’s Come Down From Up River is like that chocolate chip muffin that turns out to actually be raisin. It’s still a muffin, so yay, but raisin? Well, okay.

Part of Theatre New Brunswick’s 50th anniversary season, Come Down From Up River is a world premiere production from The Foster Festival. The production, running at the Fredericton Playhouse, is directed by Patricia Vanstone.

Come Down From Up River stages a family reunion between Bonnie Doyle (Amanda Parsons) and her uncle Shaver Bennett (Peter Krantz). The two haven’t seen each other in 23 years, and Bonnie has been perfectly okay with that. Bonnie’s wife Liv (Kirsten Alter), on the other hand, thinks it’s sad that Bonnie wants no kind of relationship with her uncle. After all, doesn’t family stick together, no matter what? Well, Bonnie doesn’t think so, even though Shaver is all the family she has left.

Why is Bonnie so cold towards Shaver? She won’t tell. All Bonnie will say about Shaver, a logger from up around the Miramichi River, is that he’s a lout who will strongly disagree with Bonnie and Liv’s interracial, same-sex marriage.

And that’s all we know about Shaver until he steps foot inside their home.

Surprise, Shaver is actually an okay guy.

In fact, Shaver is super likeable. Maybe too much, though. Every time he cracks a joke, you wonder what messed up thing Shaver did for Bonnie to hate him. Was he part of a hate group? Did he kill his sister in that drunk driving accident? You can’t help but feel a kind of dread for the big reveal that Shaver is a monster.

Well, turns out Shaver didn’t accept guardianship of Bonnie after her mother’s death.

That’s bad, obviously, but not exactly everything Bonnie made him out to be.

Yes, Foster’s misdirection makes a point about stereotypes, but the way Foster just so weakly tackles racism and homophobia is disappointing.

The hate doesn’t come from inside the house, but the law firm where Bonnie works. She isn’t made partner because the firm’s biggest client has a ‘moral conflict’ about her and Liv’s relationship. Seriously fucked up, right? This news prompts an emotional speech from Liz about facing racism and homophobia everyday. Instead of walking around it, Liv says, she walks through it.

Walk through it? The play glides through it. Bonnie and her colleague decide to resign and start their own firm. That’s it. Bonnie doesn’t even drop her resignation letter into the hands of her employers. Instead, she tells Liv, it was their personal assistants who felt her wrath.

Cool?

Well, at least the playwright got to tell us how bad hate is.

If you want a fun two hours of characters trading quips, look no further than Come Down From Up River. It’s a funny play that happens to be set in Saint John, New Brunswick. Picture a combination of Ron Swanson and Uncle Buck, that’s Krantz as Shaver. He’s hilarious. And Alter, she’s fabulous in the role of Liv, a person who needs to know details even if it annoys the other person. It’s like a game of squash when Krantz and Alter share a scene together. It’s hit after hit after hit, with the walls vibrating with laughter. Parsons does a fine job of playing Bonnie, the tough one. Of course, she isn’t always tough. Bring a tissue.

Stage right, there’s a table and some bar stools, with a Moosehead sign just behind on the wall. Stage left, a hospital waiting room. And right in the center, it’s Bonnie and Liv’s living room with a couch and table where family photos are on proud display. It’s a simple set from Set and Costume Designer Peter Hartwell.

There’s a lot of sitting and talking, though it doesn’t feel like a lot. Vanstone breaks it up with some movement, just enough so the banter keeps from going stagnant. She keeps the play grounded in effective simplicity, wonderful for those emotional highs that come late in the play.

If you don’t think about it too much, Norm Foster’s Come Down From Up River is a comfortable comedy.


Norm Foster’s Come Down From Up River runs Nov 8 – 10 at the Fredericton Playhouse.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/come-down-from-up-river/

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