Plenty of laughs, often uproarious with underlying message of love, family and reconcilable differences
Donna McMillan | Port Dover Maple Leaf | Wednesday, May 24, 2023
Like all of us, his character has flaws. But the world could sure use more of Shaver Bennett’s perspective on acceptance and inclusion. After a crowd- stirring prelude performance by a few members of the Paris Port Dover Pipe Band Opening Night, playwright Norm Foster’s “Come Down From Up River” took to the Lighthouse Festival Theatre stage with plenty of laughs, often uproarious, as well as an underlying message of what constitutes love, family and reconcilable differences.
Shaver has been a logger for 47 years in Northern New Brunswick along the Miramichi River, living a fairly isolated existence with the exception of a casual “friends with benefits” relationship. He’s been estranged from his once beloved niece for 23 years, but needs a free place to bunk when he comes down river to Saint John for a series of serious medical tests. He’s looking for reconciliation with Bonnie and is unaware that she is now a successful lawyer “churched up” with her wife, Liv Arsenault, a black graphic artist who works from home. Bonnie is convinced her “red neck” uncle is a racist and a misogynist; to say nothing of his unfounded views of same sex marriage. Shaver doesn’t blink when meeting the joyous, ebullient Liv and it’s not just because he is at that “don’t give a shit age.” He truly doesn’t care as long as there is love in the partnership. He’s not fallen down Bonnie’s imagined rabbit hole of intolerance.
Ralph Small, a veteran Lighthouse Theatre actor, stars as Shaver. His droll sense of humour, his sincerity and his witty repartee in this role has the audience roller coasting from empathy to hilarity; not to mention the snickers over his “private parts” tales of woe. Fuschia Boston, new to the LFT stage, plays Liv beautifully with sunshine and light and genuine affinity in every word and action. Her nosiness and run on sentences, that Shaver felt needed some periods so he could get a word in edgewise, were performed flawlessly. Eliza – Jane Scott also excelled on stage. Her acerbic demeanour with Shaver and quickness to draw the wrong conclusions as well as her inability to give a half hour of her time in his time of need hit home for some I’m sure. Liv’s caution that when it comes to family “put your difficulties in your back pocket” was yet another Norm Foster truism.
Director Sheila McCarthy, who plays Greta in Academy Award winning “Women Talking” as well as performing in Umbrella Academy on Netflix, Little Mosque on the Prairie and Die Hard 2, referenced Norm’s ability to capture stories about people that audiences will recognize and see themselves in. “He walks a fine line between comedy and tragedy and often breaks your heart when you least expect it,” she shared.
Foster, who has been the most produced playwright in Canada every year for the past 20 years, often uses his simple, down home comedic platform to send a message to viewers. Kudos to him.
As for past performances, Eric Bunnell designed a lovely set to reflect the home of Liv and Bonnie. Other members of the Creative Team include Chris Malkowski, Lighting Designer, Alex Amini, Costume Designer, Laura Grandfield, Stage Manager and Ben Tuck, Apprentice Stage Manager.
Artistic Director Derek Ritschel thanked Execulink, Stoney’s Hardware and Lens Mills for their support of this performance. He also announced a commitment to perform a pantomime every winter. Jack and the Beanstalk has been chosen for 2023.
“Come Down From Upriver” runs in Port Dover until June 3. Tickets can be purchased in person at Lighthouse Festival Theatre, 247 Main Street, by calling the box office at 519 – 583 – 2221 or visiting lighthousetheatre.com