Ottawa Little Theatre’s 102nd season kicks off with the government of Ontario working to cover-up the lack of a nuclear accident and attempting to outsmart a small town Ontario farming family to do so in Dan Needles’ Perils of Persephone.
Should you see it?
When a truck carrying radioactive material crashes into a swamp bordering the Currie farm in the small town of Persephone Ontario, Eldon Currie – who is also the town Reeve (think deputy mayor) – does what any of us would do and phones it in. Unlike the rest of us, however, Eldon’s got a direct line to provincial minister of the environment, Henry Burfurd MPP. A couple of small overreactions and escalations later, the Currie family find themselves caught in the whirlwind hilarity of a government cover-up when they find out that the truck was perfectly harmless and the call to evacuate ten thousand might people might have been a wee bit hasty.
Perils of Persephone is a light-hearted comedy about fossils, radioactive material, cow semen, toxic dumps, and – most importantly – protecting your home. It’s not deep stuff or punch to the gut drama, but it is a solid play with a proven record by a popular Canadian playwright and it’s a fun show to take in. Especially if you like to laugh at the government – and in this city, you kind of have to.
Here in Ottawa Little Theatre’s production – kicking off their centennial plus two – it hits the stage matching the quality of OLT’s better comedy/dramas. The technical and production values come with OLT’s usual standard of excellence (except maybe the radiation suits, but that’s a small and forgivable offense), the direction is good, and the cast perform commendably.
The Currie family consists of Marj, played as the supportive, and caretaking matriarch by Nancy Thomson, Wendy, the bright, academically inclined daughter with just a touch of the schemer’s heart in her as played by Chantal Despatie, and Eldon, the politically eager owner of the Currie farm played by Ian Stauffer. There’s also good old country boy (and possibly a giant–how did they find wardrobe that fit him?), the hard working Uncle Orval Currie, Peril of Persephone’s funny man whose straightforward sensibilities and ownership of all the best one-liners make him a standout. “I live here on nuclear free days.” He retorts at one point when somebody remarks that she thought he was living in the barn. This would have been an easy role to miscast, but John Balsevicius was a great choice.
On the government side of things, there’s Skip Fuller. Played by Annette Huton, Skip is an A-type personality who thrives on politically scheming and spin doctoring. She thinks herself the puppetmaster and seeks greater victory in keeping everybody under her manipulative thumb while solving the escalating crisis partially caused by hapless minister of the environment, and first on the scene of the accident, Henry Burford MPP. Burford, played by Harold Swaffield is a small political bigwig out of place in a big pond who can’t do much but go along to get along.
The characters of Perils of Persephone all border on stereotypes but under Val Bogan’s direction didn’t hit so close as to be more caricature than real person. It’s easy to accept them as people and as a family and to just to enjoy watching them try and make it through the night.
That is, in all cases but one. Truck driving hipster philosopher with a social science degree, Francis Hinkley, played by Andrew Stewart, was very heavy on the surfer/stoner overtones and never felt like more than the the sum of those assembled quirks. A lighter touch would have been far less distracting and might have made him feel more real. Even that, though, is a minor worry in an otherwise good show.
All told, go and laugh at OLT’s Perils of Persephone.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think. Was Perils of Persephone a high time in the country or did it leave you longing for the big city? Do you think a city like Ottawa is particularly prone to liking this show given it’s subject matter? Join the discussion in the comments below and I’ll see you there.
Perils of Persephone runs now through October 4th at the Ottawa Little Theatre. More details.