Review by Bryan Dearsley
It looks like Mother was right after all. And no Mother was ever more right than the one played so magnificently by Robin Clipsham in the Gravenhurst Opera House’s 2017 Muskoka Summer Theatre production of Old Wives’ Tales.
Writer Kevin Riordan has Mother rattle off superstitions and beliefs – those classic ‘old wives’ tales’ after which the play is titled – so fast and furious that it’s hard (but a lot of fun) trying to keep track of them. Even more fun, though, is the delight we take in watching each of them then being ripped apart and exposed for their flawed logic by Mother herself or, as the play develops, her daughter Lucy – particularly after the latter becomes a mom herself.
Delivering her lines masterfully throughout, Clipsham’s Mother sets things up perfectly in her opening monologue when we’re cautioned, naturally, to “Always listen to your Mother” – something she soon confesses she never actually did herself. Which, of course, makes her dealings with her daughter, played by the very capable Allie Dunbar, so much more difficult. Contradicting herself constantly, pulling out the requisite superstition to counter whatever Lucy throws her way, it’s a delight to watch as we see their relationship develop down the decades, especially during Lucy’s numerous tantrums.
Balancing the performances of these two leading ladies, JP Baldwin – ‘tripling-up’ as the Priest, the Waiter and the Lawyer (make sure you catch the name of the company he works for, it’s brilliant!) – is the calming foil to the often-frenzied women. He shines in the role of the waiter where, to his shock and horror, he alone must break the news to an unknowing Mother that the birthday present she’s been waving about manically is, in fact, not a pencil, nor a paperweight… or even a device to stir one’s drink, for that matter. It’s an absolutely first-rate piece of comedy handled with old school brilliance.
Another bit of fun – this time instigated by director Maja Ardal and set designer Tim Webb – is having the cast actively involved in the between-scenes action.
“It’s totally unique and exciting to have the cast involved in every aspect of the production,” says Ardal. “We made the decision to have them move the props around between scenes a total of three times. It really is a bit of stage magic.”
And she’s right. Watching the three actors wiggle and jiggle in time to the music as they set up the next scene is a treat, and a sure sign that they’re having as much fun as the audience watching them.
Summer Season Artistic Director Dave Campbell has certainly done a phenomenal task of coaxing the very best from the stellar team assembled for this first-rate comedy, the first of three slated to run at the historic Gravenhurst Opera House throughout the summer.
And yes, Mother would definitely approve.
Old Wives’ Tales is playing until July 14th. For tickets or information, please visit www.GravenhurstOperaHouse.com or call the Box Office at 705-687-5550.