Family struggles to achieve healing in Neptune's Mending Fences
ANDREA NEMETZ ARTS REPORTER Published October 30, 2014 - 6:33pm
Iain Stewart, left, and Jack Nicholsen star in Neptune Theatre’s production of Norm Foster’s Mending Fences at the theatre until Nov. 9. (TIM KROCHAK / Staff)  

You Can’t Go Home Again is the title of a famous novel by Thomas Wolfe. But in Mending Fences, onstage at Neptune Theatre till Nov. 9, that’s just what Drew tries to do.

In the biting Norm Foster comedy, with big belly laughs and profound insights into relationships of all sorts, Drew (Iain Stewart) is 28, a recently unemployed golf pro whose marriage has crumbled. He also hasn’t spoken to his father, Harry (Jack Nicholsen), in 13 years. So he goes back to the ranch in Saskatchewan where he spent his early years, a 32-hour train journey, to see if his mistakes owe anything to his past. He also wants to make his father pay for those long years of silence.

Harry has troubles of his own and a bright light in his life in the form of spunky Gin (Jane Spidell), the widowed neighbour who shares his bed. The prickly reunion between Harry and Drew sets the tone for the show, directed by Miles Potter, at just the right pace — never lingering, but letting the frequent jokes develop the laughs they deserve while dwelling for the perfect amount of time on the thoughtful moments.

Sparks fly among all three and nothing is off-limits in their fast-paced conversations, ranging from sexual partners to suicide to drinking, unions, mad cow disease and hockey. The wry exchanges are peppered with clever, acerbic and frequently suggestive one-liners. Though Harry is nearly 60, his libido is that of a man much younger.

It’s much easier to sympathize with blustering Harry than bitter Drew, particularly when scenes from Harry’s past play out for the audience. The flashbacks, in which Stewart plays young Drew and young Harry at various times, Nicholsen plays Harry’s father and Spidell plays Harry’s mom and Drew’s mother Lory, provide a poignant anchor to the play while driving home how impossible it is to escape one’s past.

Nicholsen, who starred in Mrs. Parliament’s Night Out, at Neptune in 2012, nicely elicits sympathy for difficult curmudgeon Harry. Somehow you like Harry, even when he’s being an obtuse jerk.

Stewart, who was part of the ensemble in Neptune’s Mary Poppins in the spring, has a harder job making Drew likeable, as the young man seems to want to blame all his failures on his upbringing. He’s a father himself now and should man up and take responsibility for his actions.

Spidell, making her Neptune debut, shines whenever she’s onstage. She’s a no-nonsense, plain-spoken, independent heroine who doesn’t let any man dictate her actions. More than the men, she knows herself and why she thinks the way she does. She also drops nipple and fart jokes into conversation with ease, eliciting much laughter.

The characters in Mending Fences are real, not polished Hollywood or overly dramatic reality TV people. And their relationships ring with truth, providing plenty to think about on the way home.

The set, by John Dinning, with battered wooden cupboards, deer’s antlers above the door, plaid cushions and gleaming wood furniture, is simple and homey, highlighted by an expansive, cool blue sky that accentuates the chill that has settled around the hearts of the emotionally guarded trio.

Ultimately, the play, which runs two hours including intermission, is about finding home — whether home is a place or a family or a place within oneself. And maybe that means finding a new home, rather than going home again.