Review: The Melville Boys (Panfish Productions)
By Ryan Kerr
Playing at Alumnae Theatre, The Melville Boys is a modern interpretation of a Norm Foster Canadian classic
A new concept in the Toronto scene, Panfish Productions aims to merge theatrical novices with experienced heavyweights in a mentoring role to develop skills and take advantage of the wealth of talent in our fair city. The playbill lists mentors in many fields, from casting to make-up, and veteran director David Schaap lent his skills not only as director but as production mentor as well.
Written by Canadian superstar playwright Norm Foster, The Melville Boys takes place over a holiday weekend in a rustic cabin. Lee and his younger brother Owen take their first opportunity in too long to jettison their mundane responsibilities and drown themselves in beer, snack foods, and afternoons fishing. Enter lake residents Mary and her younger sister Loretta, and suddenly things get interesting.
A pair of brothers. A pair of sisters. You’d think the rest would write itself. But the confluence of the sexes (in this case, anyway) proves a catalyst for change on both sides and the result of the following 24 hours is thought-provoking and deeply affecting.
Despite being originally staged in 1984, Schaap did an excellent job with his modern interpretation of Foster’s classic. The characters of Mary and Loretta defended what could be seen as weaker, traditional opinions with twenty-first century defiance and bravado. The boys drank Steam Whistle tallboys, and nodded to the oppressive nature of their family values rather than dwelling on them.
The illusion of being in a quintessential cottage was so credible – thanks in large part to Brian Chmielewski’s stunning, meticulous set – that we became guests in a world where time was irrelevant, leaving only the present moment in focus. And the actors, particularly thanks to the very real chemistry between sisters Mary and Loretta (played by Jennifer Morris and Alaine Hutton, respectively) made us feel so at home as guests rather than as audience, that we were tempted to kick off our shoes and help ourselves to coffee, as they did.
The great work by Chris George as Owen and Yehuda Fisher (also Producer) as Lee, however, lacked the familial rapport one would expect from the Melville boys. Schaap may have been commenting on the character of Lee when casting Yehuda in the role, but nonetheless the very believable sibling relationship illustrated by the ladies outshone the boys’ connection.
Sarah and I adored the scene after the big dance, where the hilarious contrast of characters showed the company’s collaborative skill, and the touching and surprisingly honest exchange between Owen and Loretta in the second act.
After the play was finished, Sarah and I shared nachos and discussed The Melville Boys late into the night. We agreed that this run should be well-attended and be the first of many Panfish Productions.
– The Melville Boys runs until April 28th at Alumnae Studio Theatre (70 Berkeley Street ) - Performances are Tuesday – Sunday at 8:00 pm - Tickets are $25, and $5 for students with valid I.D. - Tickets are available in person at the T.O. Tix box office at Yonge-Dundas Square or online