Mike Renzella | Haldimand Press | Thursday, May 25, 2023
PORT DOVER—There’s just something about a great comedy in the spring. With their season-opening, laugh-packed show ‘Come Down From Up River’, Port Dover’s perennially popular Lighthouse Festival has returned for 2023 in grand style to save us from the winter doldrums.
Opening on May 18 to a sold-out theatre full of excited patrons, the show is packed to the brim with humour, heart, and so much more, taking audiences on an emotional, but ultimately life-affirming journey.
Written by Canadian theatre stalwart Norm Foster and directed by Canadian acting icon Sheila McCarthy, in her Lighthouse debut as a director, the show has a brisk pace, delivering rapid-fire jokes wrapped around the story of an estranged niece and uncle, Bonnie Doyle and Shaver Bennett, played by Eliza-Jane Scott and Ralph Small respectively, who find themselves thrust back into each other’s lives to deal with 20 years of unopened baggage.
Shaver, a recluse who lives in the woods, disappeared from Bonnie’s life at a young age, but finds himself on her doorstep after making the trek up to the city, looking to reconnect with his only remaining living family member ahead of a scheduled series of medical tests centered around a foreboding (and hilariously bluntly explained) condition he has developed.
Caught between the two beefing relatives is Bonnie’s wife Liv Arsenault, played by newcomer Fuschia Boston in a scene-stealing performance that is equal parts endearing, hilarious, and heartwarming.
The show is full of interesting twists that play with the audiences’ expectations. Going in, I anticipated a story in which a gruff lout of an uncle learns to come to terms with his niece’s chosen lifestyle, but the show almost immediately upends those expectations, very quickly establishing Shaver as a much deeper and more complex character than I necessarily expected going in.
A lout he may be, but Shaver Bennett is at least a pragmatic lout, quickly dispelling any pre-conceived notions his niece may have had about how he would react to her lesbian, interracial marriage and setting the stage for a richer examination of how old wounds can sometimes push you away from the people you need the most, and the work required to undo them.
Small is given a character in Shaver that could easily fall into caricature with the wrong performer, but those who have seen Small on the Lighthouse stage before know they are in the hands of a capable, talented veteran. By the end of the show, audience members will feel like Shaver is a member of their own family, a perfect surrogate for that one uncle/parent/cousin we wish we were closer to, and a gentle reminder to reach out and make that call while there’s still time to enjoy life together.
As Bonnie and Liv, Scott and Boston both shine as a believable married couple, with effortless chemistry. Both characters carry hidden pains which are revealed at certain moments throughout the play and are made all the more impactful by the genuine love the pair are able to imbue their characters with.
As Bonnie, Scott brings a unique, initially (and intentionally) off-putting energy to her role, portraying her as a strong woman protecting a wounded heart. With precision comic timing, Scott finds a way to wring a lot of laughs out of a character who is, at her essence, deeply wounded. Watching her character’s evolution through the story is one of the show’s great joys.
As for Boston, she is the heart of the show, bringing Liv to life as a fully-fledged force of nature who wears her heart on her sleeve and will stop at nothing to reunite and help heal the wife she loves and the uncle she’s just met. It’s a wonderful performance, and it ushers in a new performing talent in Boston worth keeping your eyes on. She is going places.
So, if you like laughter (and really, who doesn’t), you owe it to yourself to race down and catch ‘Come Down From Up River’. The show runs at the Lighthouse Festival Theatre in Port Dover until June 3, and then it will move to Port Colborne’s Roselawn Theatre where it runs from June 7-18.
For more information or tickets, visit lighthousetheatre.com or call their box office at 1-888-779-7703.