|'Mending Fences' a stronger opener to ACT ONE fest|
|ACT ONE opens festival with strong start|
|by Jeanne McCartin|
|August 14, 2014|
It would be easy to sell "Mending Fences" as the classic "we laughed, we cried" tale, but the opening play in the ACT ONE Summer Festival is so much more. The tight, warm script by Norm Foster, a Canadian author, is more than prosaic laughs and the pathos beyond Hallmark sentimentality.
This script, about a complex relationship between an estranged father and son, is compelling and human, and while it takes time to get there — hopefulness. Out of the blue son Drew visits his father Harry at his Saskatchewan ranch, the family's home before his parents split more than a dozen years before.
The carping between the two begins at the train station and continues throughout the visit. Neither gives quarter, and both are somewhat confused about what's taking place and why, but too proud to put it on the table. Decades of family history unfold over a matter of days in exchanges between the difficult and reserved father and gunning son, and through flashbacks, and conversation with Gin, dad's girlfriend and neighbor. Gin, in her buoyant, direct manner, does what she can to pull the men closer.
The trio of performers are consummate storytellers, the words authentically rolling off each tongue, their mannerisms and facial gestures perfectly married to character. At times, given the theater's intimate space, the honesty of the performances can make you uncomfortable, as if you walked in on a real and personal conversation.
Both Will MacDonald as Harry and Mark Jacobsen as Drew give impeccable portrayals that ring with emotional resonance. Every inflection and move is as it should be — the confusion, disquiet and humor.
Kate Bossi as Gin distinguishes herself, even in this fine company. The role is the production's light air and energy. It puts a lot on the actress, who in this case carries it with ease. Bossi infuses Gin with all the fun, directness, warmth and likability called for. Her expressions and bearing are distilled to perfection, making for an engaging and discerning performance. Additionally, she morphs into the two men's mothers in flashback sequences, each woman marked by their own deportment.
Stephanie Voss Nugent's proficient direction brings "Fence's" to life. Her arrangements, movement, character development, and of course casting delivers a polished piece. The use of John Perrault's tune "Whatever You Got Going On" is a nice touch.
"Mending Fences" slides, or more accurately jumps, immediately in and out of flashback scenes. The fast moves work because of staging, the performers' depictions and the critical, apt lighting design by Meghann Beauchamp.
The set designed by Voss Nugent is charming and perfectly executed — a real home, albeit rustic and rundown in fashion. The costuming, created by Nugent and the performers, also is well-appointed.
The hurt in "Mending Fences" can really burrow in at times, but the script skillfully balances the sadness with wit and humanity, and the final moments of hope work their magic. This is a charming, perceptive well-penned script, smartly appointed in every way. "Mending Fences" is most certainly worth your discretionary time.