Drawing audiences into unflinchingly dramatic territory via their latest production, Central Alberta Theatre continues its run of Wrong Turn at Lungfish through March 7th.
Penned by Garry Marshall and Lowell Ganz, the show runs in the Nickle Studio at CAT studios, adjacent to the Memorial Centre. Curtain is 7:30 p.m.
I’ve always been supportive of CAT exploring more gritty, meatier material, and they’ve certainly does so with this production, which was directed by CAT veteran Craig Scott.
The story follows a blind, elderly and bitter college professor by the name of Peter and a streetwise young woman who reads to him in a New York City hospital.
The pairing of course presents a clash of personalities but as the play unfolds, the duo learn about each other and themselves. Robbin Edgar plays the part of Peter with Tara Rorke starring as Anita.
First off, the acting is for the most part extremely strong. Edgar is excellent as the crusty, mean old fellow who ever so subtly lets a touch of vulnerability show through as the story moves forward. It’s interesting to see Edgar do this so convincingly – there are those key moments when he lets his guard down ever so slightly.
As Anita, Rorke is also very strong. Anita is ultimately a desperate, horrendously insecure woman. She’s in an abusive, oppressive (to say the least) relationship. Much of the reason for her putting up with this comes to light as her story is told as well.
In the meantime, Peter tries, in his own way, to help her untangle herself from her boyfriend’s terrifying grasp (Dominic is played with lots of frightful threatening and bluster by Travis Johnson).
Then there is the long-suffering nurse (Anya Paulsen) who spars with Peter continually but really has a passion for what she does – despite a constant weariness as she scrambles to keep up with her workload.
Really, the heart of the play revolves around Peter and Anita’s relationship. And there are stark, disturbing moments – Anita needs cash and will resort to nearly anything to get it.
Her motives for delving into the friendship also become increasingly questionable, but ultimately her heart is in the right place and it’s clear she cares for Peter. And he, again in his own way, cares for her, too – despite the pain of his own past which has rendered him such a cynical, seemingly uncaring person.
Whenever a play ventures into territory tapping into themes like these, it’s not going to leave a person uplifted. Obviously, that’s not the point. The point is to challenge an audience to take a closer look at themselves, at society and to dig deeper.
The disturbing thing about Right Turn At Lungfish is that much of what we witness onstage rings true to life. Loneliness, folks spending their final days in sickness avoided by friends and family; the horror of men attacking women and making their lives a living hell; the nightmare of hearing how some children are raised – with disapproval and scorn from their own parents. It’s tragic – and the cycle to pass the pain on, in a number of forms, continues.
To that end, the play shows the impact of circumstances – those that might have been avoided, and ones that simply couldn’t be.
There is also much talk about deeper issues – the purpose of life, death, sickness, isolation, abuse, neglect and dealing with the pain that life inevitably brings.
Through it all, Anita looks for a higher purpose – emphasizing the spiritual side of things. Peter initially dismisses much of that kind of talk outright. And both have important things to learn from the other.
For his part, Scott clearly has a talent for directing. He’s a solid actor, too, but it’s obvious he knows how to guide actors into tapping into raw, dramatic strengths.
That said, there were a couple of problems. First, the second half is too dragged out. The turbulent goings-on between Anita and Dominic go in circles with no resolution in sight for just too long.
This of course is not the fault of Scott or his actors – it’s a script issue. And a common issue I might add; many stories meander on far too long, bogging down the story’s momentum and leaving audiences with too much to mull over.
Other than that, it boils down to an issue of taste.
For those who expect light-hearted romantic comedy from CAT, this story won’t appeal.
For those looking for grit and fire, not always told in a completely polished or sophisticated way, this side of CAT may be what they are looking for.
For Scott and his team, it’s obvious plenty has been poured into making the material breathe with as much authenticity as they could muster. That kind of commitment should be commended.
Tickets are available at the Black Knight Inn by calling 403-755-6626 or checking out www.blackknightinn.ca.