By Crystal Wood
Highway 63: The Fort Mac Show, playing at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, offers a great chance for Torontonians to see what life is like for Canadians in other parts of the country.
The show brings attention to a timely environmental issue too. It’s hard to open a newspaper (or click on a news site, I guess) without hearing about the Alberta Oil Sands, but I’ll admit to not really thinking much about the people who call that region home. When we sat down in our seats, my friend Sarah and I both thought that we would be in for a heavy-handed political play. Instead, what we got was a fast-paced, humourous piece of theatre that talks about a heavy issue in a light and accessible fashion.
The play mixes real and imagined material to tell the story of the residents of Fort MacMurray. The young cast of Georgina Beaty, Greg Gale and Jonathan Seinen play Mary, Steve and Chad. Steve and Chad came to Fort Mac to take their own bite out of the profitable (if destructive) oil industry. Mary, who has lived in the town her whole life, is counting the days until she can leave. The show breaks frequently from this storyline so the actors can recount interview segments conducted by the collective that created Highway 63: The Fort Mac Show. (In a twist of meta self-awareness that I enjoyed, there were moments when the actors, playing interviewees, ask questions to the invisible creators about the play.)
The cast are all fun and energetic, bouncing between their various characters and keeping the play moving at a good pace. Greg Gale gets the most laughs as the Newfoundlander who comes to Fort MacMurray to work as a truck driver. Although the show’s program notes indicate that portions of the show are improvised, you would be hard-pressed to tell which parts they were as it all flows together perfectly.
When I asked Sarah what she thought about the play, she said she enjoyed it a lot but “thought it got a bit weird at the end.” The tone does shift a bit, getting darker to show how the characters are affected by their setting – the isolation, the cold, etc. I kind of liked the mood toward the end, though I did think it came on a bit abruptly.
Best of all, there’s even a brief cameo from the Rick Mercer Report!
Theatre Passe Muraille has created a thorough experience to go along with Highway 63: The Fort Mac Show. Environmentally themed documentaries will be screened on certain nights during the run (check the TPM website for details,) and be sure to head into the main lobby before going to the Backspace, because there is an amazing display of photography of the tar sands by artist Louis Helbig.
– Highway 63: The Fort Mac Show plays until February 26, 2001 at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. (16 Ryerson Avenue)
– Showtimes are Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30pm, with Saturday matinees at 2pm.
– Tickets cost $25 Tuesday to Thursday, $30 Friday and Saturday, and pay-what-you-can on Saturday afternoons. Order online at www.artsboxoffice.ca or in person at the theatre.