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1000 Islands Playhouse, Gananoque, ON
Thursday, May 9 through Sunday, June 9, 2002
GOODBYE PICCADILLY is an auspicious beginning for the 21st season at the 1000 Islands Playhouse in Gananoque. A new play by noted Canadian TV and film writer Douglas Bowie, Artistic Director Greg Wanless has given it a solid production. Mr. Wanless has assembled a team of expert designers and a very strong cast.
The play is basically about family, with all the attendant difficulties of relationships - difficulties heightened by a recent death and a secret stretching back to World War II. One of the strongest things about this play is its unpredictability. Mr. Bowie has managed to avoid both plot and character cliches. Even the use of well-known songs of the period is appropriate and judicious. He's also written one of the funniest funeral scenes I've ever seen.
I do have one quibble, and I'll get it out of the way immediately. I wonder if Mr. Bowie has considered ending his play with Sonny's shouted word, "Philistine!" I know my companions and I thought it was the end, and were surprised when the play continued. The scenes that follow seem anticlimactic. They're also very predictable - the only scenes that are. Even the song falls flat. An earlier ending would also solve the problem of Act II running a bit long.
Mr. Bowie has written some wonderful characters and is very fortunate in his actors, particularly Heather Esden. I saw her in FOR THE PLEASURE OF SEEING HER AGAIN, and to see her again in this role is truly a pleasure. Miss Esden has the depth and power to create a strong central character that is funny and moving by turns. There's a lovely moment when she drops into a flashback of her first date and we magically seem to see the young girl she was then.
Miss Esden's terrific performance is matched by that of Tracey Ferencz as her daughter. I've admired Miss Ferencz's work in her previous appearances at the Playhouse, and she's as strong as ever in this one. Matthew Gibson gives a nicely balanced performance with a couple of surprisingly fierce moments. He manages to side step any hint of caricature. As for Mo Bock, he's thoroughly believable in a difficult role. This is the best thing I've seen him do. Rounding out this excellent group is the warm and vulnerable Meg Walter, whose lovely voice provides musical punctuation.
Carolyn Smith's set is clever as well as utilitarian, and provides one of the play's many surprises. Tim Fort's lighting adds a great deal, especially in helping focus time shifts. Anne Redish has done a nice job with the costumes, and obviously had a good time with the dream sequence.
Director Greg Wanless has woven all these elements together into a satisfying whole. GOODBYE PICCADILLY is in extraordinarily good shape for the first production of a new play. It's an interesting story with interesting characters who provide genuine laughter and even a sniffle or two. I hope it goes on to future productions elsewhere.
On a scale of one to five, the 1000 Islands Playhouse production of GOODBYE PICCADILLY gets four and seven eighths fish. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.