Central Alberta Theatre stages Foster’s The Melville Boys

Performances run through to March 18th at the Black Knight Inn

Central Alberta Theatre is putting the finishing touches on their latest dinner theatre offering – The Melville Boys – which opens this Friday 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 arrive at a lakeside cabin for a weekend of fishing, but their plans are thrown out of whack by the arrival of two sisters who become catalysts for a tenderly funny and unsentimental look at four lives in transition.

“They are off to their uncle and aunt’s cabin way back in the bush that they used to go to as kids with their father.”

There are other plot turns as well which take the characters in different directions dramatically-speaking, but by the end of the show audiences will leave with a smile, noted Sutherland.

Co-directing the show is Erna Soderberg, and the cast features Carla Falk, Jim Claggett, Rob Burton and Rina Pelletier.

The production marks Sutherland’s first time in the director’s chair, and it’s a challenge and an experience he became particularly interested in upon reading this script. He said he’s also enjoying working with Soderberg, who has been at the helm of many of CAT’s finest productions over the years.

“I read it and it caught my fancy – I like Norm’s writing,” explains Sutherland, adding the acclaimed playwright has an accessible style that readily connects with audiences. “It’s a really good mix – it’s a comedy with some real intense drama, too. But in true Foster fashion, you smile at the end of the play.

“A lot of (his writing) is just about plain and simple life,” he added of Foster’s remarkable and enduring appeal. “His plays can really be placed anywhere as well. It’s just very relatable,” he said, noting that over the years he has appeared in about five Foster productions as an actor. “You see some conflict, but there is a good deal of comedy with some really sharp lines. That’s what Norm writes like.”

He’s also thrilled with his very capable cast.

“I’ve always felt also that picking the cast is really 75 to 80 per cent of what the play is. If you can pick a good cast with a good script, your chances of having a successful play are pretty high,” said Sutherland, who is also an exceptional actor in his own right, having last appeared in CAT’s rendition of 37 Postcards in late 2015.

And although The Melville Boys certainly has its funny moments, there is some drama woven into the script as well particularly between the brothers at one point. “It gets pretty intense. In the rehearsal last week, they just blew me away,” he said. “Each time they do it over, I’m just blown out of my chair.” Claggett, for example, is known for his knack for comedy, but there is a talent there too for nailing scenes of a more dramatic nature, added Sutherland.

Meanwhile, directing the show has been a tremendous experience – a chance to hone an extensive set of skills that he hadn’t had to before as an actor. There’s a whole range of things to watch over, from sets to costumes to bringing out the very best in your group of actors as opening night approaches. Of course, it takes a committed team on all levels to really pull things all together, he said.

With the cast, moving to the place where they go ‘off book’ also proved an exciting step. “Once you get totally off book, then the characters start to build.

“It’s just fun – like a living cartoon almost,” he added with a laugh in describing the process. He noted that after such a positive experience, he’d certainly be up for directing again, too. But thankfully, he’s not about to stop acting either. Sutherland has an impeccable sense of comic timing and dry wit that shines through every time he’s onstage. And ultimately, now he has a whole new appreciation for what directors have to manage.

“Now that I’ve seen what goes into directing, acting is a snap!”

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