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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Any Given Moment is Marvelously Reassuring

Ever feel the totality of existence weighing down on you? Emma (Claudia Gutierrez-Perez) feels that way. The 21-year-old barista has big questions but no answers. And lately, it’s become too much for her.

Enjoying its world premiere at Theatre New Brunswick (a co-production with Ship’s Company Theatre), Kim Parkhill’s Any Given Moment is marvelously reassuring — like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night.

No, Parkhill doesn’t solve life’s greatest mysteries nor does she pretend to be ahead of everyone else. Any Given Moment is about finding clarity through the support of other people.

Directed by Natasha MacLellan, Any Given Moment stages three strangers trapped inside a church after police initiate a lockdown. The lockdown is put in place after Emma, armed with a plastic gun, calls 911 on herself. To escape the rain, Emma runs inside the church where she finds Lisa (Alexis Milligan), busy preparing a benefit concert, and Bill (Wally MacKinnon), an older man experiencing homelessness.

Despite being strangers, Emma and Lisa think they have each other all figured out. How? Well, Lisa’s affluent lifestyle is all the proof Emma needs to know that she has the perfect life. Kids, husband, and a “McMansion” — what does Lisa have to worry about? And Emma’s diary is all Lisa needs to know that she is a troubled left-wing teenager ready to commit a mass shooting. If Lisa actually listened to Emma, instead of relying on what the news tells her, then maybe she would see things differently. 

It’s easy to think the world and other people are shit when the news (credible or not) is everywhere, all time. It’s hardly surprising that Lisa discovers all sorts of rumours about the lockdown when she logs onto the internet. Any Given Moment reminds us that we live in a time where people can know everything and nothing —  the double-edged sword of Web 2.0.

No matter how much the world changes, however, people can make a difference. Big or small, it all matters. And it starts with listening — a simple, yet powerful act of kindness. It’s only when Lisa learns to truly listen, with help from Bill, that she can not only see the hurt and confusion in front of her, but also make a real impact on someone’s life.

Keeping true to the play’s lesson of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, costume designer Cathleen McCormack has the actors dressed in extremes. Gutierrez-Perez is dressed kind of like Wednesday Addams if she were the lead singer of a 2000s Emo band — torn denim skirt, black leggings, and black boots with black and white socks. Milligan has a neater, more approachable look — a white t-shirt with brightly coloured yoga pants. And MacKinnon is dressed with a dirty face, plaid jacket, and old jeans and sneakers. McCormack leaves no room for ambiguity, these costumes invite preconceived notions. 

Inside TNB’s Open Space Theatre, Katharine Jenkins-Ryan’s set features what look like stained glass windows, an elevated staging area and two benches downstage (one on each side). The way Ingrid Risk lights the back of those windows is beautiful, especially when MacKinnon sits alone with the Virgin Mary.

And those delicate piano notes from sound designer Aaron Collier…!

Gutierrez-Perez brings an energy that feels like a mix between Daria and the Warped Tour. She is fiercely compelling as Emma, an angry young woman who feels powerless against, well, everything. Milligan channels every awful Minions meme that has ever been posted unironically on Facebook. She is brilliantly infuriating as Lisa. Versatile, too. Milligan manages to take us from rooting against Lisa all the way to making us feel bad for her. It’s a solid performance.

MacKinnon is hilarious as Bill. He has a warm presence that makes us wish others could see Bill’s golden heart.

Any Given Moment reassures us that we do matter, no matter how big the world might feel at times. A must-see.


Theatre New Brunswick’s production of Any Given Moment by Kim Parkhill ran September 12 – 16 at TNB’s Open Space Theatre. A co-production with Ship’s Company Theatre.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/any-given-moment/

Sappier Makes Debut With Finding Wolastoq Voice

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Aria Evans in Natalie Sappier’s Finding Wolastoq Voice, presented by Theatre New Brunswick. Photo Credit: Andre Reinders.

The final world premiere production of Theatre New Brunswick’s 49th season is Finding Wolastoq Voice, the debut work from Indigenous artist Natalie Sappier-Samaqani Cocahq (The Water Spirit). Directed by Thomas Morgan Jones, Finding Wolastoq Voice stages the awakening of a young Wolastoqiyik woman as she reflects on family, healing, and identity. 

The production, running at TNB’s Open Space Theatre, features interdisciplinary artist Aria Evans (dancer/choreographer).

In Sappier’s play, the beginning and the destination are, in some ways, one and the same. There is something circular about the personal, often difficult journey that the young woman embarks on. She moves away from her family only to return again. Of course, the young woman doesn’t return the same. Life experiences and guidance from her ancestors push the young woman to see beyond herself and see herself in others, namely her mother. She learns forgiveness and that makes both her return and a new beginning possible.

Evans performs on what has the appearance of a large medicine wheel. The set, designed by Andy Moro, has two tiers. In the first, each of the four quadrants are filled with sand, and they are divided by small canals of water. The second tier is a wooden platform raised in the middle, with a glass-covered opening in the center for light to shine through (lighting design by Moro).

What’s interesting about Evans’ choreography is the vulnerability and unease that comes through in the movement, but also the resilience that pushes the character forward. Of course, that resilience is challenged at certain points, but nonetheless it remains. Evans’ movement captures the anxiety of being displaced, of not feeling a sense of belonging. The sand plays an important part in this personal investigation as Evans pushes it, spreads it, and eventually comes to make peace with it. Rough waters calm with time, but, as Sappier warns, it’s easy to lose one’s footing and be swept away. Evans’ choreography is exciting and articulate.

Although the script could be more concise, Sappier’s writing is rich in vivid imagery, which shouldn’t surprise anyone given her creative background. The set truly feels like an extension of Evans and her character. And Moro’s lighting choices sync well with the stages of growth in Sappier’s play.

Finding Wolastoq Voice is a confident debut.


Finding Wolastoq Voice by Natalie Sappier runs March 8 – 18 at Theatre New Brunswick’s Open Space Theatre. The production will tour across the province March 21 – April 6. 

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/finding-wolastoq-voice/

A Christmas Carol Returns to Theatre New Brunswick

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The restless spirit of Jacob Marley (Ijeoma Emesowum) visits Ebenezer Scrooge (Nora McLellan). In the background: Andre Morin. Photo Credit: Andre Reinders.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol returns to Theatre New Brunswick with a new adaptation by Artistic Director Thomas Morgan Jones. Nora McLellan features in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, marking the first time in TNB’s history that a woman has played the character. The production, directed by Anne-Marie Kerr, runs at the Fredericton Playhouse from December 14 – 16, then at Saint John’s Imperial Theatre on the 17th.

Let’s talk about the set and lighting first, because…wow.

Set designer Joanna Yu presents an industrial warehouse aesthetic with four giant shelves – one on each side with the other two upstage – stocked with props and furniture, and a pair of rolling stairs. (Up above are chairs suspended by wire). Yu’s set is not only eye-catching, but very appropriate given the Industrial Revolution’s impact on British society and Dickens as both an author and social critic.

And it’s all beautifully lit by Leigh Ann Vardy. Vardy employs shades of blue for a ghostly, chilling effect. This is a ghost story, after all, and it’s winter. There are also warm shades of green and orange for more jovial moments, like the Ghost of Christmas Present’s introduction.

Everyone from Mr. Magoo (later parodied by The Simpsons) to The Flintstones to the Muppets has told their own version of A Christmas Carol. Therein lies the challenge of staging A Christmas Carol. By this point, everyone knows the story, even if they aren’t familiar with the source material. So, how do you tell the story in a way that surprises people again?

Fast, fun, and full of surprises, TNB’s production of A Christmas Carol enchants with its theatricality. The ensemble, acting like an otherworldly theatre troupe, pull various props from the shelves to tell the story and create different settings. For instance, what looks like an ordinary door knocker turns into that scene from Stranger Things where the Demogorgon tries to push out of the wall. The effect is created with actress Katie Swift pushing her face through a framed painting of a door knocker. It’s terrifying.

What’s really interesting is Kerr’s choice to block the scene between young Scrooge (Andre Morin) and his fiancée Belle (Swift) in one of the shelves. Suddenly, Yu’s industrial-looking warehouse reveals its true purpose – the warehouse is Scrooge, and its stored with his memories, if not unconscious mind. Perhaps then, the miser’s journey with the spirits exists somewhere between internal conflict and supernatural phenomenon. It’s a different take on the classic tale that gives it a just a little more dimension.

However, Kerr stumbles with McLellan’s entrance as Scrooge. McLellan’s entrance ends with a top hat lowering onto her head, as if the hat were some cultural icon that deserves something so dramatic. What happens next is that the hat looks ridiculous because there’s a small metal ring (where the wire hooks) poking out for no reason other than that one ‘cool moment’.

What happened to the Ghost of Christmas Present’s dress?

Ijeoma Emesowum enjoys a fabulous entrance as the happy spirit, but then she turns and there’s an exposed wire cage sticking out behind her. Either there was a costume malfunction or it’s an intentional design choice by Sherry Kinnear. Likely the former given that the spirit is supposed to have an overall big presence, and a similar form is used for another dress just a few scenes before. If intentional, it’s a choice that really doesn’t pay off. The cage steals a lot of attention from everything else. Otherwise, the dress is lovely with its bright festive colours.

McLellan brings a nice touch of dry humour to Scrooge. Don’t fret, McLellan’s Scrooge has plenty of humbugs to pass around. Everyone who dares wish Scrooge a merry Christmas or, worse, asks him to part with his money is met with the popular catchphrase. This hint of humour makes Scrooge’s redemption all the more joyous because the character’s hardened exterior melts away to fully reveal the good-nature that had always been.

Speaking of goodness, Sophia Black is an absolute delight as Tiny Tim, among her other roles that include the Ghost of Christmas Past. Your heart may just break a little when the cheery young actress walks on as Tim, and then a little more later when the Cratchits are missing a seat at their table.

Also in the cast are Adrian Choong and Mark Crawford who like everyone else, besides McLellan, play multiple roles. Notably, Crawford plays Bob Cratchit, later the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Kinnear has dressed the spirit as what looks like a plague doctor, with glass eyes and a bird beak. It’s a strong choice that’s unsettling from far away, and a fitting one since the spirit is there to cleanse Scrooge (by showing him death).

All in all, it’s a fine production of A Christmas Carol. There are elements that help reinvigorate Dickens’ heartwarming tale, and then some that don’t quite hit the mark. Still, audiences looking to escape the winter blues will more than likely feel uplifted by TNB’s production of A Christmas Carol. If nothing else, they will walk away impressed by very splendid set and lighting design.


Theatre New Brunswick’s A Christmas Carol runs Dec 14 – 16 at the Fredericton Playhouse, then at Saint John’s Imperial Theatre on the 17th.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/a-christmas-carol/

A Howling Success: Griffith’s Fortune of Wolves Premieres at Theatre New Brunswick

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Theatre New Brunswick presents Ryan Griffith’s Fortune of Wolves, Oct 12 – 22 / 24 – 30. Left to right: Michaela Washburn, Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, Graham Percy, and Kimwun Perehinec. Photo Credit: Andre Reinders.

Enjoying its world premiere at Theatre New Brunswick, Ryan Griffith’s Fortune of Wolves is a fabulously imaginative play about a young man named Lowell (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, and others) who encounters the strange and inexplicable while travelling across Canada. According to TNB, no performance during the show’s run will be the same. Dice are rolled before every performance to determine which of the more than 40 characters Lowell will meet and interview. In its entirety, the show would run over nine hours long. How long is the show actually? Approximately two hours and thirty minutes, with one intermission. So, the chances of a repeat performance are slim.

Lowell’s entire world is empty after the death of his parents. Wanting to recapture sound, Lowell sets out on a cross-country adventure from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia to Tofino, British Columbia. Along the way, he documents the lives of everyday Canadians using his voice recorder. That’s the plan, anyway. What Lowell doesn’t know is that he may in fact be documenting humanity’s last days on Earth.

Of course, no one knows right away that the world may be ending. The strangest thing Keith (Graham Percy) from Perth-Andover can tell Lowell is about a friend who claims he met God while in a coma. When not drunkenly complaining about a town that thinks it’s a city, Stacy (Michaela Washburn) from Fredericton mentions that someone from her boyfriend JP’s work disappeared recently. In Waterville, Lowell learns from a hospital worker named Emma (Kimwun Perehinec) about a patient who disappeared without a trace. It’s not until Lowell arrives in Montreal that he and other people start to realize that the reported disappearances are not isolated, but part of a larger unknown phenomenon.

What makes Fortune of Wolves a howling success is its refreshing and grounded approach to the science fiction genre. Aliens. Starships. Experiments run amok. These classic images associated with science fiction are nowhere to be found, or at least their implied presence is very minimal, in Griffith’s play. Instead, the New Brunswick playwright focuses on what’s at the very heart of science fiction: ordinary people against extraordinary circumstances. And no scene better encapsulates Fortune of Wolves than Dwight’s monologue.

Montreal resident Dwight has earned a pay raise at work. The bump in pay means that he and his girlfriend can now stay a little more ahead of their monthly bills. Tragically, Dwight’s girlfriend dies suddenly in her sleep. What is a greater unknown than death? He is reluctant to leave his girlfriend’s body to call for help, fearing that her body may disappear. Of course, it’s not about aliens abducting people. It’s not even about the world ending. For Dwight, the world has already ended, and his only connection to the world he knew and cherished is his girlfriend. It’s a powerful and very human monologue about loss that breaks the heart thanks to a delicate and nuanced performance by Gonzalez-Vio.

Anyone curious about the ‘no performance is the same’ concept should know that yes, it does actually matter. Going in, I was skeptical about the concept, because what difference does it make if I’m only going to see the play once? So what if this performance may only exist for me and none of my friends? Here’s the thing, Lowell records frequent travel updates, and in them he references events the audiences may or may not have seen in scenes prior. It’s really cool to hear Lowell speak about something I was lucky to see in this performance of the play. It’s also really cool to hear about what I didn’t get to see, to let myself imagine what else is happening to the characters that inhabit Griffith’s apocalyptic Canada. Such excitement over the play’s other stories is super dependent on the quality of the script. In that sense, it’s an incredibly risky work of drama, because frankly nine hours of material doesn’t mean a thing if no one wants to sit through any portion of it.

And so, would I see the play again? Yes. I want to hear from the other characters. I want to discover their stories. I am so curious to know the full scale of the play’s mysterious phenomenon. I wouldn’t even mind if, somehow, it was the exact same performance, because there is just so much to appreciate in the script. Griffith’s strongest quality as a playwright is writing characters who you feel like you could meet one day, either walking down the street or in your apartment building. The script’s elegant introspection will stay with you and may even call you back inside the theatre.

There is something haunting and turbulent about the atmosphere created by Composition and Sound Designer Deanna Choi. Somehow, Choi makes TNB’s Open Space Theatre feel at once intimate (which the space is) and very large. Perhaps it’s the melodic eeriness that follows Lowell combined with the violent rumbling, that feels as if the whole world is trembling, that comes periodically. David Degrow’s lighting design adds to the production’s otherworldly atmosphere with its moody character and emphasis on silhouettes.

Director Thomas Morgan Jones’ approach to staging Fortune of Wolves is economical. When not delivering monologues, the non-speaking actors perform movements either in the background or around the actor speaking, and/or they represent an extension of Lowell. While Jane (Perehinec) explains the Fermi Paradox and Great Filter to Lowell, the other actors run in circles on stage, swirling around her like stars and Lowell’s brain trying to grasp the cosmic significance of these two theories. Other times, the non-speaking actors perform small, repeating movement patterns.

This cast that TNB has brought together is immensely versatile. Gonzalez-Vio disappears into his characters, transforming head-to-toe from scene to scene, and portrays Lowell’s disintegration with vigor. Perehinec’s confident and engaging stage presence makes her shine as Jane and Casey, an army medic with no left to report to. Perehinec’s Casey is an endearing character that anyone would want by their side at the end of the world. Percy is seriously, seriously frightening as the unhinged and sadistic Ed who nearly ends Lowell’s journey prematurely. Washburn’s Zoe speaks profound truths with a smile and peppiness that makes one almost forget that the actress also really knows how to play a cantankerous old woman.

Anything is possible in science fiction. The genre embraces the extraordinary and imagines circumstances and worlds so unlike our own. And yet, in works of science fiction, we often find ourselves and truths that have deep meaning towards the way we live. Griffith’s Fortune of Wolves is one such work of science fiction that holds profound meaning for both today’s world and the world of tomorrow. Theatre New Brunswick’s world premiere production is a must-see.


Theatre New Brunswick’s Fortune of Wolves runs October 12 – 22 at the Open Space Theatre in Fredericton. Then, the production will tour New Brunswick from October 24 – 30. For more information, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/fortune-of-wolves/

Smooth Sailing for Theatre New Brunswick’s The Boat

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Left to Right: Ron Kennell and Jon De Leon in Theatre New Brunswick’s production of The Boat, based on the short story by Alistair MacLeod. Adapted by Ryan Griffith. Photo Credit: Andre Reinders.

Theatre New Brunswick’s world premiere production of The Boat, based on the short story by Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod, is essential theatre for the Maritimes. Adapted by Ryan Griffith, The Boat reminds us that tradition is more than just a way of living, it is the heart and soul of community. And so, what happens when young people reject tradition in the pursuit of opportunity and independence?

Directed by Thomas Morgan Jones, The Boat stages the early memories of a man (Ron Kennell) from Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia. He remembers life in the small fishing community where his Father (Ron Kennell) and Mother (Stephanie MacDonald) raised him and his sisters. The man’s father is a fisherman with a strong interest in literature, a great love for books that he passes down to his children. His mother, on the other hand, sees no value in reading books and insists that her children use their time more productively. She persists that her son should be helping his father on the family boat, just as other boys help their fathers once they reach a certain age, but her husband refuses to have their son work with him.

With the support of their father, the sisters become avid readers, find employment with a seafood restaurant (the operators dismissed by the mother as outsiders), and enjoy a social life outside of duties around the house. The sisters eventually move away from home, leaving their brother as the last one in the nest. The pressure from his mother and Uncle (Graham Percy) to participate in the family tradition increases.

The son’s memories are revisited with both nostalgia and mournful meditation. He celebrates the fishing community and their way of life, but also remembers the struggle of those fishermen who worked tirelessly to provide for their families. The sea provides, but also can take away. There is a point where he realizes something new about his father, that perhaps his father never wanted to be a fisherman. He suddenly sees his father in a whole new light, the man who once appeared bigger than life is now exhausted and run down in his mind.

What makes The Boat a compelling story is the fear of irreversible change that motivates the parents to act the way they do. The mother fears the changes she sees in her community and what that means for her family and neighbours, perhaps their way of living will never be the same; the father fears that his children may never have another chance to follow their dreams once they are set on a path. 

And so, New Brunswick audiences may find MacLeod’s family drama, originally published in 1968, still very relevant today. Youth out-migration has contributed to significant population decline in New Brunswick. There are young people who would like to stay, but feel their opportunities in the province are limited. As a result, the province is faced with the challenge of both keeping young people here and bringing people back to New Brunswick. Many would be happy if these goals were achieved, but the thing about change is that once it happens, it’s hard to go back to the way things were.

The small, yet mighty drama is staged inside TNB’s Open Space Theatre. Here, the production embraces subtlety in its design and direction. Mike Johnston’s set is kept simple with four wooden door frames, designed to look as though the wood came straight from the docks, that are mobile and used by the actors to establish new spaces. There are also seven canvases that hang in the back, each full of bright colours. Sherry Kinnear’s costume design is thematically modest with subdued colours and patterns. Morgan Jones’ direction emphasizes distance as a way to establish relationships and the non-verbal – what the characters don’t say, but perhaps want to say. The pace is steady, never too over-the-top unless the moment calls for it (like a big storm). The various elements work well to elevate the elegance of the text.

De Leon’s character has his reasons for doing and saying the things he does, and often he doesn’t feel the need to share them. There is a soft vulnerability under the surface, and De Leon shows it with a muted demeanor that feels more genuine than the jovial act that his character puts on for others. De Leon’s nuanced performance may just cause some men in the audience to phone their fathers after watching the play. And Kennell delivers a fine performance as a son who realizes that his father was a more complex person than he thought. The actor is able to turn on a dime between the character’s youthful naivety and mature reflection as an adult.

MacDonald succeeds at presenting a character whose well-intentioned actions could very well be perceived as antagonistic. The mother’s uncompromising will softens in personal moments, giving us a hint by the actress that her character is really not trying to be a bad person – she just wants her family to stay together. Percy delivers an intriguing performance as a fisherman troubled by too many years working on the open sea. His character speaks frankly about how dangerous the sea can be for fishermen, both physically and mentally, and yet he still goes to work everyday. Of course, he can’t afford not to work since he has to feed a very large family at home. And so what kind of an impact does that have on a person? The weight of such a heavy responsibility is expressed by the actor through brooding movement that conveys defeat, hopelessness, and maybe something darker within.

Theatre New Brunswick’s production of The Boat is a must-see.


Theatre New Brunswick’s The Boat runs March 9 – 18 in Fredericton at the Open Space Theatre. The production will travel to Halifax, Miramichi, Bathurst, Woodstock, and St. Andrews starting March 21st. Visit Theatre New Brunswick’s website for full details.

Adventure Awaits in Theatre New Brunswick’s The Snow Queen

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Miriam Fernandes and Andrew Broderick in Theatre New Brunswick’s production of The Snow Queen, written by Hans Christian Andersen and adapted by Thomas Morgan Jones. Photo Credit: Andre Reinders.

This holiday season, Theatre New Brunswick presents an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen. Adapted by director Thomas Morgan Jones, The Snow Queen tells the story of a young girl named Gerda (Miriam Fernandes) who embarks on a journey full of magic and peril to save her best friend Kai (Antoine Yared) from the titular villain (Michelle Polak).

The trouble all begins when shards of a cursed mirror land in Kai’s eye and heart, causing him to become very mean towards his friends and neighbors. And then one day, the Snow Queen appears before Kai and bestows upon him a kiss that makes him forget his loved ones, including Gerda. Kai is soon taken far away from home to the Snow Queen’s ice palace.

Along the way to save Kai, Gerda meets a variety of characters – the actors in multiple roles – from new lands. An evil old woman (Polak) casts a spell on Gerda that traps her in a deep sleep. Later, Gerda meets a Crow (Andrew Broderick) who tells her he may have seen Kai. And then, Gerda’s voyage in a golden carriage ends when she is taken prisoner by The Robber’s Daughter (Eva Barrie).

The magic of Andersen’s fairy tale is in what Gerda discovers out in the natural world, away from the comforts of home. Although somehow Gerda’s epic journey feels very small inside the Fredericton Playhouse. One part of the problem is how barren Jung-Hye Kim’s set looks, especially with a small cast of actors. The stage action is captured inside two large frames that have an ice crystal pattern along their borders. There is plenty of room for set pieces to fly and roll in, although perhaps too much room. Kim’s set works fine for the ice palace, but what about the vast, living world that Gerda ventures out into?

Jones’ direction also feels far too contained for the scope of Andersen’s fairy tale. The staging could be more open so to give a greater sense of the world around Gerda. Really, TNB’s Open Space Theatre might have been a better venue for The Snow Queen than the Playhouse. Perhaps then the set would not feel as empty, and more flourish could have been added to breathe extra life and warmth into the set. Michelle Ramsay’s lighting work does add some dimension and excitement to the production, but not enough to push the show full on towards holiday spectacle.

Sherry Kinnear’s splendid costume designs capture the awe that awaits Gerda outside her front door. The Rose (Barrie) is dressed beautifully in soft green and deep red, making the evil old woman’s act of trapping her underground all the more terrible. The Crow’s sharp, detailed wings look great when Broderick opens his arms wide. Denise Richard’s masks for the animal characters, particularly the reindeer Ba (Broderick), are also visually stunning.

Fernandes plays Gerda with cheery determination, delivering an enchanting performance that makes us root our young heroine. One of Fernandes’ great strengths is the vibrancy of her expression and movement, which fits very well in a story like The Snow Queen. Her stage partners share the same enthusiasm, making the the production a joy to watch. What’s fun about Barrie’s portrayal of The Robber’s Daughter is how she plays the character, who really enjoys waving her knife around, with a cavernous gruffness. It’s just such a contrast to the other fairy tale characters, even the Snow Queen, that Barrie truly shines when she takes the stage. Broderick captures the physical qualities of a crow and reindeer very well. Polak has a big presence as the Snow Queen. Yared makes the switch from good-natured to arrogant feel like a real loss for Gerda.

Although the fantastic charm of Andersen’s fairy tale feels limited, if not underwhelming at times, TNB’s production of The Snow Queen is still an enjoyable ride thanks to a strong cast of actors who are served well by excellent costume and mask design.


Theatre New Brunswick’s production of The Snow Queen runs December 15 – 17 at the Fredericton Playhouse. The production will be touring New Brunswick until December 20th.

For more information, including tour dates and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/the-snow-queen/