Latest posts by Chris Marchand (see all)
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The Manitoba Theatre Centre knows exactly what it’s doing when it takes a Dan Needles play out for a walk in the back-40.
The Wingfield-series playwright has a knack for articulating the angst that underlies the rural/urban divide. That’s a relatable quality when you’re staging a theatrical production in 23 small farming, forestry and mining communities across Manitoba and northwestern Ontario.
In a post-Larry The Cable Guy world, Needles’ plays are a somewhat validating experience for small-town souls wary of being patronized by caricatures of ourselves on stage.
Yet, the MTC’s Jan. 30 staging of Ed’s Garage had plenty of intellectual depth for an audience to chew on as it’s four characters worked themselves through their issues on the uneven ground where folk wisdom meets academia, and passion bumps up against professionalism.
Ron Beattie plays the wise old salt Ed, who runs a combination automotive garage and counseling service through which he has helped the residents of Port Petunia fix both their cars and their lives for generations. When he inadvertently steals a client named Peter (Andrew Cecon) from the new female psychotherapist, Cassandra (Tracey Penner), who has set up her practice in the cottage next door, an interesting interaction begins between Ed’s natural abilities as a healer of minds and Cassandra’s training in modern psychiatry.
The golden-voiced Beattie is wonderfully supported by Douglas Hughes, who acts as Ed’s right-hand man and plot-twister Nick.
In a scheme to help Peter deal with his anger issues, Cassandra supervises Ed’s efforts to help him, allowing for a burgeoning romance to blossom between her and Peter.
The four delve deeply into a discussion of the psychological pitfalls of the modern age – indeed the most enjoyable part of the evening for myself. Ed’s ruminations on the value of pessimism as an important coping device as well as the invention of the ‘big round hay bale’ as society’s wrong turn seem to be few the nuggets of brilliance around which the entire play was written.
“The world is a battleground, and you have to accept that without being defeated by it, or trying to escape it,” says Ed in regards to Peter’s coping problems. The line becomes the bridge between Ed and Cassandra’s worlds — something universal for us all to take home and ponder.
Ed’s Garage was ultimately satisfying albeit a bit plodding at times. Thankfully, a trio of painfully-loud, pacemaker-stopping recorded gunshots snapped me out of a stupor and each time left me sitting perturbed on edge of my seat to ride out an adrenaline-fueled panic attack.
The Dryden Entertainment Series returns Saturday, Feb. 16 as they welcome the Thunder bay Symphony Orchestra with guest Shy-Anne Hovorka. Show time is 7:30.
By Chris Marchand