I know, I know…you’re not supposed to review the ‘preview’ shows. It’s a whole thing, and I don’t understand it, but you’re really not supposed to do it. Well, phooey on that, what am I, REAL media? Besides, it’s a busy couple of weeks, time is collapsing, everything is happening at once and the preview is all I could make it out for before the end of the damned run, so Hell yes, I’m reviewing it. So there.
Reviewing what..? Yes, I should probably get to that one of these days. Well, a ways back, Arts Court here in Ottawa announced they were adding three groups as resident companies, to make the AC their home and play their respective seasons here. Those companies were Evolution Theatre, Creations in Vivo, and the first to debut, New Theatre of Ottawa. They hit the season running this week with the world premiere of Dean Hawes’ DREAMS OF WHALES. NTO Artistic Director John Koensgen (also director, producer and star of the show…phew!) showed some pretty unabashed enthusiasm for the script in the run-up to this show, and it’s nice to finally see what it was that had one of Ottawa’s premiere theatre kingpins so giddy with delight. Really, it’s hard to argue with him.
WHALES follows Walter (Koensgen), a retired dentist heading back to his childhood home, and his longtime unrequited love Ruth (the positively radiant Mary Ellis), who has recently her husband. He arrives to find she’s ejected all the belongings from her home, and locked herself inside. Walter calls Ruth’s children, timid Susan (Shannon Donnelly, making her Ottawa stage debut here) and loudmouthed George (an almost shockingly, if deliberately unlikeable Brad Long) to try and help out. Long simmering conflicts, dances under the moonlight and, yes, even a dream or two about whales, follow.
On the backdrop of Sarah Waghorn’s simple, rustic set, the DoW cast bring Hawes’ elegant and magical script very much to life. Mary Ellis’ Ruth is a perfect joy, wearing her loss and anguish as beautifully as her brightly-coloured jammies. Koensgen impresses as always, showing some wonderful understated comic timing as shy wallflower Walt. Shannon Donnelly, a former student of John K’s, gives a sweet and tragic performance as lonely Susan, long the target of her insufferable brother George’s vicious ‘humour’. And as for Brad Long (sadly lacking a sweater vest in this production but more than making up for it in jig-dancing) he brings the goods as George, whose bluster hides maybe the biggest secrets of anyone. Shoutout also to some typically cool Al Connors soundwork. Ravens everywhere!
The story is simple and effective, always engaging, with a few scenes that are particular standouts for me. Ya gotta feel a flush of price that we in Ottawa are the first ones to see this play, that already feels so familiar I’m surprised it hasn’t been performed for years. Hopefully, that starts right about now. The show runs til the 29th at Arts Court, so no excuses, you lot. Peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)