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Rod Beattie  Photo: Terry Manzo
Rod Beattie Photo: Terry Manzo

Theatre Review: "Letter from Wingfield Farm" at the 1000 Islands Playhouse

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Letter from Wingfield Farm, part one of The Wingfield Trilogy is playing at the 1000 Islands Playhouse in rep with parts two and three through November 7. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

Transcript: Connie Meng, 10/16/09

There's Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, Stuart McLean's Dave and last but definitely not least there's Rod Beattie's Walt Wingfield, Ontario stockbroker turned farmer.  Dan Needles wrote this first play of the series, LETTER FROM WINGFIELD FARM, in 1984.  He's since written five sequels and Mr. Beattie is closing in on his 4,000th performance.  Director Douglas Beattie's and brother Rod's association with playwright Needles goes back to childhood summers spent on the farm.

Having seen episodes five and six, I'm delighted that at the 1000 Islands Playhouse Mr. Beattie is performing episodes one, two and three in rotation.  He conveys a subtle difference between the Walt of his first year on the farm and the persona of the later episodes.

Mr. Beattie is able to change characters in the blink of an eye.  Using only a few hats, an amazingly flexible voice and terrific body language, he plays Walt's stammering neighbor Freddie, the old Squire across the road, the newspaper owner, a maudlin Irishman, a confused old lady and a preoccupied mechanic.  By the end of the evening we feel that we know these residents of Persephone Township.

Using the format of Walt's letters to the editor of the weekly newspaper, playwright Needles ties together various anecdotes about Walt's attempts to return to a simpler life.  Among them are trying to plow with his horse that only turns to the left, his misguided attempt to milk a heifer, and his anxiety about an ailing duck.  There are a couple of touching moments, but Mr. Beattie's timing is perfect and he never allows the material to become maudlin.

This is one of those rare and wonderful evenings in the theatre where the audience, including me, smiles all the way through, occasionally breaking into giggles and guffaws.  If you haven't yet made the acquaintance of Walt Wingfield, here's your chance to get to know him from the beginning.  I hope to go back and catch up on episodes two and three.  As my companion said, "It's like Lake Wobegon, but a lot closer to home."

On a scale of one to five the 1000 Islands Playhouse production of LETTER FROM WINGFIELD FARM, part one of THE WINGFIELD TRILOGY, gets five fish and a bait bucket.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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