BY MARK WEBER
Central Alberta Theatre has another hit on their hands with The Melville Boys, the latest dinner theatre offering being staged at the Black Knight Inn.
Directed by Michael Sutherland and penned by Norm Foster, the production runs through to March 18th.
As the synopsis reads, Owen and Lee Melville (Rob Burton and Jim Claggett) arrive at a lakeside cabin for a weekend of fishing, but their plans are thrown out of whack by the arrival of two sisters (Rina Pelletier and Carla Falk as Loretta and Mary respectively) who, “Become catalysts for a tenderly funny and unsentimental look at four lives in transition.”
Ultimately, the play is a smart mix of comedy and drama – and really gives the actors, particularly Claggett, some pretty intense material to tackle.
As the guys settle into the cabin, audiences quickly notice the stark differences between the two brothers. Owen (Burton) is due to be married in just three weeks, but has no qualms about striking up something of a relationship with a couple of local ladies.
Lee, who is married, is very uncomfortable at the prospect of even having the women over for a visit.
As the plot unfolds, we learn more about the brothers’ family background, their working lives, their overall outlook on things – Lee is by far the more mature and responsible sibling whereas Owen essentially grabs fun opportunities when they come his way without much thought as to the outcome. They couldn’t be more different.
The same goes for Loretta and Mary, who have their own singular stories to tell.
Loretta is an aspiring actress – but alas, has only appeared in a couple of commercials. Mary, the more sensitive, mature and serious of the pair, is still dealing with the heartbreaking fall-out of a separation a couple of years back.
Over time, she and Lee connect quite naturally and he let’s her in on some pretty personal information about the dire state of his health.
This is something that Owen knows as well, but is doing his flat-out best to ignore the realities of life and death. In fact, however, he’s reeling from the news, and Burton’s take on this is quite amazing to watch as it builds in momentum.
As Owen, he nails that care-free, anything goes kind of approach to life.
But he’s also very angry at what is happening to his family, what is happening to his brother and what his own future may hold. Burton is truly exceptional at showing the confusion and pain that Owen really is stuck in as he works through his overwhelming emotions.
The women are superb, too.
Falk is rock solid as Mary – and this is a woman we really feel for.
She’s clearly unhappy with her lot in life, but she’s sensible and practical and tries to have an even-keel attitude.
She’s also profoundly sensitive and very caring, and the tender moments between her and Lee are really enjoyable to watch as they try to help each other figure things out and look ahead with a sense of hope.
Loretta is, meanwhile, the life of the party.
Pelletier brings this character to sparkling life – she’s full of energy and spirit, and like Owen, doesn’t look too far into the future.
She simply lives for the moment, and pretty much for herself, too, although she’s a good-hearted and good-natured person. But she really can’t tap into the depths of what others are feeling very well.
Ultimately, you could say this is largely Claggett’s play as his character is so central to the bulk of what is going on.
And wow – he has come so far over the years.
Claggett has always been a very funny actor with a super sense of comic timing; a thoroughly likable fellow who audiences have comes to really appreciate.
But The Melville Boys gives him lots of welcome room to really showcase his raw talent for being angry, vulnerable, sad, frustrated and ultimately kind of resigned to what life has brought him.
Every step of the way, Claggett nails each and every nuance of his character’s shifting experiences so very, very well. It’s a funny, startling and at times very, very moving performance.
The production marks Sutherland’s first time in the director’s chair, and he has noted that it’s a challenge and an experience he became particularly interested in upon reading this script.
CAT veteran Erna Soderberg co-directed, and really, what they’ve come up with is something pretty affecting and powerful. Congratulations to them both for so carefully guiding this talented cast through the formation of this show.
I believe that the finest shows are those that combine comedy and drama, because that’s what much of life is.
We have our lighter, trouble-free days, but these are often affected by the unexpected and darker moments that force us to come to terms with the heavy issues of life.
The Melville Boys is an uncompromising picture of that – reminding us that ultimately, we really need each other as life takes its turns. And that’s not to say the play is mired down with pockets of negativity – quite the contrary. There are lots of laughs woven into the mix as well.
As Sutherland noted in an earlier interview with the Express, he was confident that audiences would leave with smiles on their faces. He was right.
For ticket information, visit www.blackknightinn.ca. For more information about Central Alberta Theatre, check out www.centralalbertatheatre.net.